Professional liability insurance protects you and your counseling practice. It provides coverage if a client sues you for malpractice or negligence and it helps cover legal defense costs, settlements, or judgments resulting from lawsuits. As with all insurance, you hope you’ll never need to use liability insurance. But it’s best to have it there, just in case.
Let’s explore what therapists and counselors need to know about professional liability insurance so you and your private practices are protected.
What is Liability Insurance?
Liability insurance provides you and your therapy business with financial protection against claims of negligence or misconduct that may cause harm to clients.
Before taking out liability insurance, you’ll want to understand what it covers. That way, you can be sure you have the proper protections in place.
Liability insurance usually covers:
- Bodily Injury – The costs associated with bodily injuries caused to others. For example, if your client slips and falls at your office and sustains an injury, your liability insurance would help cover their medical expenses and related legal costs.
- Property Damage – The costs of damage to someone else’s property caused by you or your business. For instance, if you’re looking at a client’s journal entry at their request and accidentally drop their laptop, shattering the screen as you’re handing it back to them, liability insurance would help cover the costs of repairing or replacing the computer.
- Personal Injury – It can also cover personal injury claims, such as defamation, slander, or invasion of privacy. If you unintentionally make false statements about a client that harm their reputation, liability insurance may cover the legal expenses associated with the resulting defamation claim.
- Legal Defense Costs – Liability insurance typically covers legal defense costs, including attorney and court fees. This coverage is important because legal proceedings can be expensive, even if the claims are unfounded.
Liability insurance alone likely isn’t enough to totally protect your counseling practice. It has some limitations that you’ll want to be aware of before purchasing it. Luckily, most of the things it doesn’t cover are things you likely wouldn’t be doing in the first place.
Liability insurance typically won’t cover:
- Intentional Acts – Liability insurance typically doesn’t cover intentional acts or deliberate harm you might cause. It protects against unintentional negligence or misconduct, not decisions you make on purpose.
- Criminal Acts – Liability insurance generally doesn’t cover claims arising from criminal acts. These acts include things like practicing while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
Is Professional Liability Insurance the Same as Malpractice Insurance?
People in the mental health profession often use the terms “professional liability insurance” and “malpractice insurance” interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. All malpractice insurance is a form of liability insurance, but not vice versa.
Various professions use liability insurance to protect them if a client claims they made a mistake or failed to act, and it caused them financial loss or harm. But malpractice insurance addresses the unique risks medical professionals face. Doctors, nurses, counselors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals are exposed to a higher degree of liability due to the nature of their work. If they make an error, the potential for harm to their clients is significant and involves their health.
Malpractice insurance is tailored to address these specific risks and covers claims related to medical negligence, misdiagnosis, medication mistakes, and other medical-related issues. It’s for when a patient claims a medical professional has failed to meet the standard of care expected in their professional capacity.
By having malpractice insurance, you can ensure you have the appropriate coverage to protect your financial interests and maintain your clients’ trust.
Do You Need Both General Liability and Professional Liability Insurance?
Yes, you likely need general liability and professional liability insurance. They cover different aspects of your practice, so combining the two is usually the best idea.
General liability insurance covers third-party bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury claims. It doesn’t cover errors and omissions that you may make in the course of your career. It’s important to have, though, as healthcare costs can stack up pretty quickly.
While general liability insurance offers coverage for accidents and property damage, it may not address claims specific to the professional services you provide as a therapist. Professional liability insurance fills this gap, providing coverage for claims related to your work, not just your workplace. Together, general and professional liability insurance can offer comprehensive protection, covering various potential risks and liabilities.
Comprehensive coverage protects you against a wide range of potential risks and liabilities. Consider the value of your assets, the potential costs of legal defense, settlements or judgments, and any potential loss of income. Then, make sure you have insurance in place to cover these possibilities.
By having dual coverage, you can benefit from the broad protection of your physical counseling practice and the treatments you provide. This comprehensive approach can help protect your physical and conceptual practice, reputation, and financial well-being.
How Much Insurance Do You Need?
The amount of insurance you need will vary depending on you and your practice. But, as a ballpark figure, according to Insureon, 82% of their insured therapists choose general liability policies with a $1 million per-occurrence limit and a $2 million aggregate limit.
The per-occurrence limit is the maximum your insurance will pay for a single incident. So, they won’t pay more than $1 million if your client twists their ankle on a rug in your office and falls.
The aggregate limit is the maximum your insurance will pay on any claims during your policy period, which usually is a year. So, your insurance isn’t going to pay more than $2 million if a person injures themselves during a fall in your office and you bust a client’s computer screen.
As your practice grows and evolves, you may need to adjust your policy limits to align with expansion. Increasing your coverage limits can provide enhanced protection and ensure your insurance adequately addresses potential risks and liabilities.
When determining the amount of coverage you need, consider the following:
- The Nature and Scope of Your Practice – Consider factors like the nature of your practice, the type of clients you work with, the value of your assets, and the potential financial impact of claims when deciding what coverage limits you need. It’s crucial to regularly review and assess your coverage needs to ensure that your insurance keeps pace with the growth and changes in your practice.
- State and Regulatory Requirements – Research the insurance requirements and regulations applicable to counselors in your state or the states where you’re licensed to practice. Some states may have specific minimum coverage requirements or regulations that dictate how much insurance you need. Ensure that you comply with these requirements to meet legal obligations.
- Evaluating Potential Risk Factors – If you offer teletherapy services or have an online presence, for example, assess the specific risks associated with these aspects of your practice. These risks may include those related to technology failures, data breaches, online communication, and potential liability arising from providing counseling services remotely. Assess the potential risks associated with the confidentiality of client information and data security. In today’s digital age, protecting client data from unauthorized access is crucial.
Consulting with an insurance professional or broker specializing in liability insurance for counselors can help you understand the specific risks involved in your practice and determine the appropriate coverage limits you need.
How Much Does It Cost?
According to a report by Insureon, the median cost of a general liability insurance policy for counselors is about $30 a month, with professional liability insurance coming in at an additional $40 a month.
When obtaining liability insurance, key factors can influence the cost of coverage. Understanding these factors is essential in determining the premiums you may need to pay. By considering these factors, you can make informed decisions about the type of coverage you need and find a balance between protecting your practice and managing insurance costs.
Factors that may impact the cost of counselor liability insurance include:
- Specialty – Insurance providers consider certain specialties to carry a higher risk of claims or lawsuits due to the nature of the counseling services. For example, if you work in trauma counseling, substance abuse treatment, or couples therapy, you may be viewed as having a higher risk of claims.
- Experience Level – Your level of experience can also influence insurance costs. Insurance providers may consider less-experienced counselors to be more likely to make errors or face challenges in their practices, leading to potentially higher premiums. But, as you gain more experience and establish a track record of successful practice, your insurance costs may decrease.
- Location and Practice Setting – Your geographical location and practice setting can also affect insurance costs. Rates can vary based on the region’s legal environment, cost of living, and prevalence of claims in the area. Additionally, if you work in private practice, you may have different insurance needs and costs than those in institutions or organizations.
- Coverage Limits and Deductibles – The coverage limits and deductibles you choose can influence the cost of your liability insurance. Higher coverage limits and lower deductibles generally result in higher premiums. The higher your coverage limits, the more financial protection the policy provides, which opens the insurance company up to higher risk. A deductible is the amount you agree to pay out of pocket before the insurance coverage kicks in. Higher deductibles typically result in lower premiums since you take on a larger portion of the potential loss or claim.
Depending on your practice, you may need additional coverage beyond basic liability insurance. This coverage could include cyber liability insurance for protection against data breaches or additional coverage for activities such as teletherapy or supervision of other therapists. Additional coverage will mean your premiums will be higher, as will your protection.
Understanding Occurrence-Based and Claims-Made Policies
To make things even more complex, there are also different types of policies within liability insurance. Your choice will depend on your circumstances, but they offer different protections.
Let’s look at the two types of professional liability insurance — occurrence-based and claims-made — in more depth.
An occurrence-based policy covers incidents during the policy period, regardless of when a claim is filed. This approach means that if an incident occurs while the policy is in effect, even if the claim is filed years later, the policy will respond to the claim based on the coverage in place at the time of the incident.
Coverage for new incidents stops once the policy expires or is canceled, but anything that is filed later on relating to an old incident is still covered.
This type of coverage is good because it provides for incidents during the policy period, even if the claim is made later. There is no need to purchase tail coverage or worry about retroactive dates.
But occurrence-based policies are typically more expensive than claims-made policies, especially in the long run. Premiums may increase over time, and it can be challenging to switch insurers while maintaining continuous coverage for past incidents.
A claims-made policy provides coverage for claims that are made and reported during the policy period. This approach means that the incident and the claim filing must occur within the policy period for coverage to apply.
Claims-made policies typically include a retroactive date, which is the date from which incidents must have occurred for coverage to be triggered.
The policy may provide coverage if an incident occurs before the retroactive date. But, once the policy is canceled or not renewed, coverage for future claims is no longer in effect unless you buy a separate extended reporting period, known as tail coverage.
Claims-made policies generally have lower initial premiums compared to occurrence-based policies. They offer more flexibility in switching insurers as long as tail coverage or an extended reporting period is purchased to cover any incidents before the policy’s retroactive date.
But coverage is only provided for claims made and reported during the policy period. If you don’t get additional tail coverage, you’ll have no coverage for claims filed after the policy expires or is canceled. And premiums may increase over time, especially if switching insurers.
Extending Your Insurance With Tail Coverage
We briefly mentioned tail coverage in the section above, but what is it? Let’s dive deeper into what tail coverage means and why and when you may need it.
Tail coverage, also known as an extended reporting period endorsement, is an additional coverage option that you can buy to extend the reporting period for claims under a claims-made policy. It allows you to continue receiving coverage for incidents that occurred during the policy period but were reported after your policy ended.
Clients may come forward with claims or allegations long after the incident or treatment. This delay in reporting can be attributed to the nature of therapy, where clients may take time to process their experiences or become aware of potential harm. Tail insurance provides financial protection and peace of mind even if the report occurs months or years after the end of the policy.
If you have “claims-made” insurance, you may want tail coverage. Without tail coverage, any incidents that occurred during the policy period but are reported after the policy’s expiration or cancellation aren’t covered.
Contact your insurance provider well in advance of your policy’s expiration or cancellation to inquire about tail coverage. Understanding the timeframe for obtaining tail coverage is crucial, as some insurance companies may have specific deadlines or requirements.
Tail coverage typically incurs an additional cost. The premium for tail coverage is usually a percentage of the prior policy’s premium. The exact percentage can vary depending on the insurance company, the length of the extended reporting period, and other factors.
How to Locate Insurance Providers and Options
There are many insurance providers out there, each offering various policies. It can be overwhelming. So, how do you know which company is best for you?
- Look for Available Options – Start by searching online for insurance providers that offer liability insurance for counselors. Use keywords like “liability insurance for counselors” or “professional liability insurance for therapists” to find relevant results. Visit the websites of insurance companies that specialize in providing coverage for mental health professionals.
- Research Insurance Providers – Consider insurance providers’ reputation, customer reviews, and ratings. Online platforms, professional forums, or industry publications often feature reviews and feedback from counselors who work with specific insurance companies. These reviews can give you insights into customer service, claims processes, and the overall satisfaction level of existing customers.
- Seek Referrals and Recommendations – Contact professional associations or industry organizations that may have resources or recommendations for insurance providers that cater specifically to counselors. Additionally, contact colleagues, mentors, or other professionals in your field to ask for referrals or recommendations based on their own experiences with insurance providers. Their firsthand experiences and insights can be valuable in identifying reputable insurance companies that understand your specific needs as a therapist.
- Compare Coverage Options and Quotes – Request quotes from multiple insurance providers to compare coverage options and costs. Consider coverage limits, deductibles, additional features or endorsements, and any exclusions that may affect your practice. Make sure you compare like for like, so you can check you’re getting the best deal that still provides the protection you need.
- Review Policy Terms and Conditions – Carefully review the terms and conditions of the insurance policies you’re considering. Pay close attention to the scope of coverage, limitations, and any exclusions that may apply. Seek clarification on any areas that are unclear or require further explanation. Understanding the specifics of the policy will help you make an informed decision and avoid surprises down the line. If there’s still anything you’re unsure about, consider booking consultations with insurance providers or brokers to discuss your specific needs and ask any questions you may have. Meetings allow you to better understand the coverage options available and also to check out the level of customer service they provide.
Make Sure You’re Protected
Finding the right insurance coverage for your practice requires thorough research, gathering referrals, comparing options, and reviewing policy details. By investing time and effort into this process and understanding the types of insurance you may need, you can make sure that you choose a policy that protects your counseling practice.