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Should I Be Concerned About Vicarious Liability?

The answer is YES if you or your practice employ, contract with, supervise, or share space with other medical professionals that see or treat your patients. These working relationships create a vicarious liability exposure, which may not be covered under your professional liability insurance policy.

Most medical professionals that have obtained a professional liability policy believe coverage is provided for any claim associated with the practice of medicine. Professional liability insurance policies do provide coverage for claims arising out of the rendering or failure to render professional services. However, this is a very broad statement, which is further qualified by conditions and exclusions listed in your policy. It is important you are aware of how policy conditions and exclusions affect your coverage. This article focuses on vicarious liability and how common conditions and exclusions in your professional liability policy affect your coverage.

Vicarious liability refers to the liability assigned to one party for the acts of another.  This certainly occurs in employment situations where the employer is held responsible for employees.  A vicarious liability exposure also develops when:

  • You or your entity contract to have professional services provided on your behalf.

  • You supervise a provider who is not your employee.

  • You share office space with another provider and patients of that provider believe he or she provides services as part of your practice.

Coverage for vicarious liability exposures in most medical professional liability insurance policies is limited to liability arising out of employees acting within the scope of their duties as an employee.  Several policies may even require certain employees (physician extenders) be named on the policy for coverage to apply.

Once you step outside of the employer/employee relationship it is common for medical professional liability policies to exclude coverage for claims arising out of professional services by a provider not insured on the policy.  This would include contracted providers, non-employees you supervise, and providers in a shared office situation.

Medical professional liability policies can be difficult to read and understand, and differ as respects coverage for these exposures. It is important you discuss these exposures with your agent or insurance company to determine if the appropriate coverage in place. Insured duties, usually found in the policy condition section of the policy, require you to fully disclose information about all exposures on applications and a material changes to your practice. Failure to do so could result in declination of coverage.

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