Under-the-Radar Liability Risks

Many doctors have liability on the brain - in particular malpractice. But usually they carry a number of other insurances like auto, home and disability. The one that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but shouldn't, is a supplemental liability umbrella to cover all those other problems you never think about.

Many doctors have liability on the brain — in particular they talk and obsess about malpractice. Make no mistake; it's a real problem, an expensive problem with large direct and indirect costs. In addition to malpractice, doctors are prone to carry lots of other insurances, such as auto/vehicle, home, office, life, workman's compensation and disability (the one protecting a doctor's biggest asset, his/her ability to earn).

The one that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but whose absence might rise up to bite you in the bottom, is a supplemental liability umbrella.

Home, auto, etc., are considered to be primary insurances and do have liability coverage. But they have limits. The biggest risk that a doctor faces in a major judgment exceeding these limits is not just the loss of assets (and emotional stability) but the threat to the lifestyle you have built and become accustomed to.

Liability is everywhere in our litigious society. Let me enumerate a few under-the-radar risks that might induce some of you to consider an umbrella liability policy (typically $1 to $3 million at a cost of $1,000 to $3,000 a year) and/or to be more careful if you've already had the foresight to acquire such coverage. For instance, consider the potential hazards from unaddressed repair needs around your house — sidewalks, holes, untrimmed shrubbery, playground equipment, etc.

Or hosting a party in your home without paying attention to how much people are drinking and who is subsequently driving. Or unsupervised parties for your kids; you are still on the legal hook for any liability event that they may be involved in, even if they are not home and not drinking. Warnings are often cheerfully ignored by the young set, but a brief, repeated discussion may sink in eventually.

Also talk to your children about what they put on the web in their often voluminous social media activities. And while you are at it, be careful yourself. I know a chief executive officer who will not personally use email for any reason because of the potential for mischief. He has "his people" do whatever is needed.

And most doctors also have staff, both at home and in their practices, to consider. At home you might have a house cleaner, a gardener, a baby sitter/nanny, a handyman or an occasional caterer whose presence you need to realize should also be acknowledged from a potential liability point of view. From sexual harassment to paying Social Security and on and on — all employers, even of casual help, need to think their situations through.

Lawyers advise clients to think twice about loaning your car, boat or other vehicle. Likewise with mobile toys such as snowmobiles, golf carts, RVs and the like, which also have liability traveling back to you.

And in the spirit of "no good deed goes unpunished," your noble involvement in community activities, particularly boards, needs to be likewise protected. You just can't imagine the unlikely trouble that can arise in our litigious society, even for folks trying to help others.

An umbrella liability policy is a deductible expense. It covers pricey defense costs outside of primary policy limits. It covers you for slander and libel and property damage even when you are far away from home.

Let me say that I have no connection to any insurance entity of any kind and that I have, happily, never made a claim. Maybe having this kind of policy is like carrying an umbrella on a cloudy day; carrying one is a totem to ward off the rain.

I'm not trying to make you more paranoid than events and the media have already conspired to make the average doctor/parent/homeowner/driver. Just be realistic and think about calling your insurance agent If you don't have a supplemental liability policy, to talk it over and at least find out about them. Comfort is where you find it.