Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk
A malpractice judgment arising from a lawsuit against you can hurt you personally and professionally. You may be named as a defendant in a lawsuit by a far-reaching plaintiff’s lawyer casting a broad net when you were not even directly involved in the case. Plaintiffs typically seek to name any potential party in a lawsuit to enhance the settlement potential for the plaintiff, and additional insureds with their respective insurance carriers are key targets.
If and when you are named in a lawsuit:
- When you receive the notification letter, telephone call, or email that you are named as a defendant in a lawsuit, notify your insurance carrier immediately. The time meter is running, which holds you accountable to satisfy defined court imposed due dates to respond. The notice to your carrier can be done through the toll-free number that is provided when you buy your insurance policy. Failure to provided notice to your insurance carrier may nullify your insurance coverage.
- After you report the notification of a lawsuit against you to your insurance carrier, follow up your initial dialogue with your insurance carrier with a certified U.S. Mail letter to your insurance carrier. This evidences your compliance with the insurance policy contract, so the responsibility to defend you is clearly shifted to the insurance carrier, provided that the incident and claim is an eligible claim as defined in the insurance policy contract.
- At steps 1 or 2 you should have already read your insurance policy contract, not just the Declaration page or the marketing text about the policy you own. Reading the insurance policy contract will enable you to understand the perils, benefits, limits, processes, procedures, and instructions to validate that eligible risks are shifted to the insurance carrier, and what you are actually covered for. These insurance benefits almost always include legal defense costs and indemnity benefits if applicable later. Do not hire a lawyer yourself because the insurance carrier usually has the contractual right to select the lawyer since the insurance carrier is paying the legal costs to defend you. You will probably lose your insurance benefits coverage if you ignore the insurance policy directive about defense lawyer selection rights.
- Meet with or talk to your lawyer as soon as possible.
- If the lawsuit involves your employer, contact your employer’s risk manager only, and preferably with your lawyer on the phone, or have your lawyer do it. Do not disclose anything to anyone else at your employer about the lawsuit. Simply refer their questions to your lawyer.
- Create your own personal file on a computer that you own and control, or in a paper file that you keep at your home. Do not use your employer’s computers, files, workplace, devices, of phones while you work with you lawsuit case. Remember that you are the named defendant in a lawsuit and not your employer. The employer’s insurance policy protects the employer, and you are not guaranteed to be indemnified by your employer. The employer’s insurance may not even cover you. Keep your file secure and never reveal its existence to anybody except you own lawyer. Your file may be a target for a subpoena, or twisted against you by the plaintiff’s lawyer.
Every six months, be personal risk assessment proactive. Conduct an audit of your insurance coverage. That means to read and understand what your employer has that may cover you. But first and foremost, review your own existing insurance policies to determine what insurance coverage you have and think about the gaps that exist for which you are not covered. This applies to your professional activity as well as your auto and homeowners policies, and even your life and health insurance coverage.
The NASW Assurance Services organization offers all kinds of insurance including professional liability, general liability, cyber liability, cyber device liability, term life, health insurance, and auto and home insurance.
Review the perils, benefits, and limits in your insurance policies:Professional Liability policy
Cyber Liability policy
General Liability policy
Cyber Device Liability policy