Many physicians are acutely aware that although accidents are a natural element of human nature, even a slight, unintentional mistake could lead to a dire outcome that may include a medical malpractice lawsuit. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), malpractice suits are not unusual. More than one-third of physicians confront a malpractice lawsuit throughout their career, with nearly half being sued before age 55.

Research indicates that medical negligence appears to be the third most common cause of death in our country, and physicians are best protected from malpractice claims when they have a comprehensive malpractice insurance plan lined up. Though some employers offer malpractice insurance, medical professionals should note how their employers’ plans differ from independently acquired options, as the latter may provide greater protection.

According to Jordan Fensterman, partner at Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman Eisman, Formato, Ferrara, Wolf, & Carone, LLP, and William Crutchlow, medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP, malpractice insurance falls into two main categories—claims-made policies and occurrence policies. The former offers complete coverage but only if the policy was active both during the time at which an alleged malpractice situation occurred and when the lawsuit was filed. On the other hand, occurrence policies provide protection if the policy was in effect neither at the time of the malpractice event nor when the lawsuit was filed.

Despite the fact that most employers offer claims-made policies, which are the less expensive option, Fensterman feels that many legal experts would not recommend going that direction due to the more substantial coverage provided by occurrence policies.

For physicians who choose a claims-made policy, Fensterman suggests coupling that with tail coverage, which gives policy holders some additional malpractice insurance (financial and legal protection) following the duration of their claims-made policy. Although most insurance plans will cover physicians throughout their employment, Fensterman recommends discussing it during initial contract conversations with an employer and negotiating it completely up front to potentially have it included in an employment agreement’s compensation package.

Crutchlow stresses the importance of ensuring tail coverage is available during retirement. This will protect retired physicians from any claims regarding situations that took place pre-retirement. For retired physicians who don’t have tail coverage, Crutchlow suggests either purchasing insurance via an insurance broker or directly through an insurance company. No matter what, active and retired physicians need a comprehensive malpractice insurance plan. Although it won’t prevent a lawsuit from occurring, it will provide physicians with essential financial and professional protection.