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When you have a high-profile, high-stakes job, it pays to be careful. But no matter how dedicated you are, things can still go wrong. "Some people think they don't need professional liability insurance, but that's foolish," says Clark Sitzes, executive vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance. "We live in a litigious society, and everyone has access to the courts. We all make mistakes, but you don't even have to do anything wrong to get sued." Whether you've been hit by a frivolous lawsuit or made a tragic error, this guide will help you find the right policy and protection.

What Type of Policy Should You Get?

Type of Coverage
How to find it


Medical Malpractice. The American Medical Association has reported that by their late career, around 50 percent of all doctors have been sued. Malpractice insurance can cover legal costs if a patient sues you for causing an injury or missing a diagnosis, and it will cover damages if the suit is successful. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers. The AMA Insurance Agency also offers a high-limit umbrella policy to supplement professional liability insurance.


Malpractice Insurance or an Errors and Omissions Policy (E&O). Although several decades ago lawsuits against nurses were virtually unheard of, they've been on the rise since the 1990s. Nurse practitioners can obtain medical malpractice insurance; other nurses generally buy E&O.

Professional associations like the American Nurses Association; insurance brokers (

Tech experts

Errors and Omissions (E&O) This insurance protects against a client's financial loss caused by equipment malfunction or a mistake by the tech professional. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers


Legal Malpractice Insurance The American Bar Association estimates some 80 percent of attorneys are sued at some point during their careers. Legal malpractice insurance covers damages caused by negligence or a failure to properly handle a case. (

Professional associations like the American Bar Association; insurance brokers (


Errors & Omissions (E&O) This insurance protects engineering companies and employees in case of lawsuits over shoddy or negligent work. Engineers within a company are almost never sued individually. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers


Errors and Omissions (E&O) Depending on the type of work, independent consultants may need errors and omissions insurance to protect against claims that a mistake cost a client money. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers

Accountants and Financial Advisors

Errors & Omissions (E&O) Accountants can be sued by clients or third parties who claim that their errors on anything from tax forms to accounts receivables cost them money. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers

Travel agents and Tour Operators

Errors and Omissions (E&O) This insurance protects against claims that a travel agent made a mistake—such as creating an incorrect itinerary or booking a risky activity—that caused a client financial loss or injury. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers

Counselors, Therapists, Life Coaches, and Clergy

Malpractice or E&O Like doctors, counselors, therapists, and even life coaches can get malpractice insurance to help them fight claims and pay for any damages awarded to a client. (

Professional associations; insurance brokers

What Professional Liability Insurance Costs

As with other types of insurance, the cost of professional liability insurance can vary significantly. Your rate will depend on your line of work, the state where you live or work and the kind of coverage you want, but it may not cost as much as you imagine. The following examples — which don't include general business liability insurance — are based on a marketing consulting company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

E&O Insurance Quotes for a Small Business






Punitive damages




Copyright infringement




Aggregate limit

$1 million

$1 million

$1 million


$500 per incident

$500 per incident

$500 per incident

Monthly cost




Sources: GEICO, Progressive, Insureon 2016

Attorneys: How to Avoid a "Never Pay" Policy

You'd think that attorneys would be especially careful about the details of their insurance policy. After all, it's their job to pay attention to the fine print. But according to past reports by the National Law Review (NLR), few attorneys study their policies until someone files a claim against them. It's a lesson for everyone: No matter who or are or what you do, it's important to know the details of your policy before it's too late.

If you're an attorney, you should be especially careful to avoid a so-called "never pay" policy, AKA a policy with so many loopholes and exceptions that you are unlikely to ever receive any benefits. Here are some issues to consider, according to the NLR:

  • Apply with care
    You'll be asked to list any situations that could result in a claim in the future. The insurance company asks this question to make sure you aren't buying coverage specifically to handle a claim that you know is coming down the road. It's important to answer this fully and correctly because insurance companies will simply cancel a policy if one of your answers later turns out to be incorrect or incomplete.

  • Changing insurers? Be careful
    If you move on to a different insurer, consider purchasing "tail coverage" from your previous insurer. This will cover claims made after you switched based on incidents that occurred before you switched.

  • Be on time
    Many policies require that claims must be reported to them within a specific period of time, usually 30 or 60 days. Watch out for this: If you wait too long, your coverage could be denied.

  • Check exclusions carefully
    Your professional liability policy will only cover you for your "professional" work—meaning any tasks you perform specifically as an attorney. Because lawyers today often have to multitask—they may be practicing law one hour and doing some information technology work the next— check the policy to make sure what parts of the job it really covers.

What Professional Liability Insurance Doesn't Cover

If you're a professional or a small business owner, you know that legal trouble can come from many different directions. Professional liability coverage offers protection during such suits, but as a general rule, it won't protect you if you're being charged with an actual crime. (Insurers might have to defend you during a subsequent civil claim, though). And if the claim isn't directly related to the work that you do, it probably won't be covered by professional liability insurance. For that reason, you may need more than one type of protection.


Consider business liability insurance

Lots of businesses have something called general liability insurance that protects against the sorts of claims that could happen to practically any business. For example, if someone sues because they tripped over a rug this list might in your lobby or falls outside of your ice cream shop or your used car lot, you'd better hope you have general liability insurance: A professional liability plan isn't likely to help.

Business liability insurance specifically covers any damages that occur directly as a result of you doing your job. For example, if you're a professional dog walker and one of your canine clients bites a jogger, you'll be glad you have business liability insurance. Make that extremely glad: According to Pet Sitters International, insurance policies may have to pay out over $30,000 to cover dog bites.


Look for a "tail" clause to protect yourself against bad timing

Often, there's a long lag time between an incident and an insurance claim. If you have "occurrence-based" professional liability insurance, you're covered even if a claim is filed after you leave that particular carrier or practice. But if you don't have that type of insurance and you change carriers or jobs, you're likely not covered — even if an event occurred when your policy was still active. Likewise, you'll have trouble getting your new company to cover an incident that happened before you bought your policy. Look for occurrence-based policies or a company that offers a "tail period" to extend your protection after your policy lapses, even if it costs extra in premiums.


If you handle sensitive data, consider cyber insurance

Generally, professional liability insurance won't cover you for claims related to data breaches and computer hacking. For this reason, a growing number of companies that handle sensitive data, including law firms, are buying separate "cyber insurance" to protect against hackers.


Check to see whether you need an umbrella policy for libel and slander

A general liability plan or umbrella policy might cover you against claims that you libeled or slandered someone, but a professional liability plan generally won't.

How to Prevent Lawsuits in the First Place

A simple "I'm sorry" can be one of the most powerful protections against lawsuits. Studies have shown that a sincere moment of empathy can help prevent lawsuits.

People tend to sue when they are angry, and few things are more enraging than a person who shirks responsibility. To reduce lawsuits, hospitals are now training doctors and nurses to express sympathy to patients and families who are victims of medical errors. They learn how to express regret without blame. The site for one training program, called "Sorry Works," sums up the approach: "Clinicians should NOT prematurely admit fault or assign blame. Also, do NOT get defensive. Simply say you are sorry the event happened (as you should be!) and you feel bad for the patient/family."

How else can you avoid lawsuits? "The number-one rule of thumb is to take good, detailed notes and file them where they can found later if needed," Adds Clark Sitzes. "Many claims happen because a client says they made a specific request but the professional never followed through. Having these things in writing will clear up any confusion."

"It can also help to be sincere in your efforts and show empathy," says Sitzes. "But, again, we live in a litigious society. You can put your fate in the hands of a jury, or you can have insurance and sleep at night."

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  • No matter what your profession, experts say, avoiding a costly lawsuit boils down to a few simple and common-sense strategies:
  • Be professional.
  • Take clear and careful notes.
  • Be friendly, warm and approachable.
  • Treat clients with respect.
  • Know your job and do it well.
  • Express your regret over a bad outcome.
  • Have a professional liability policy that will protect you against the claims that are common in your field.

Avoiding a Lawsuit in Your Profession

Being sued by a client is not just financially draining. You may wrestle with heartache, fear, anger, humiliation, and depression - sometimes for years. It's not always possible to ward off a lawsuit, even one that's unjustified, but here's a look at the best strategies for avoiding lawsuits in certain professions.

If you're a doctor

Almost all doctors carry malpractice insurance, which is the medical version of professional liability insurance. The insurance carrier that issues the policy will aggressively fight most claims, but it's better for physicians to avoid lawsuits in the first place. In addition to practicing medicine as ethically and carefully as possible, there are many things you can do to protect yourselves and their employer:

  • Show patients that you care about them. Genuine warmth, empathy and a good bedside manner will go far, as will good manners. Discussing malpractice, Gregory Hines, MD, past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Hippocrates magazine that "a doctor who rushes in and forgets to shake hands, identify himself, and figure out who everybody else in the room is already has one strike against him...If people like their doctor, they'll usually forgive him a mistake. If he's an arrogant jerk, they're going to get him."
  • Be respectful. As Philadelphia defense attorney David Kwass has said, "A lot of the cases I see are what I call torts of dignity. It's not that poor medicine has been practiced or there's been a bad medical outcome. It's that the patient has been made to feel unworthy, stupid, not cared about, or not listened to."
  • Be honest. Doctors who fail to fully inform patients of a treatment's risks put themselves at risk of a lawsuit. And if it's clear that you have made a mistake, own up to it.
  • Get informed consent. A signed agreement showing that a patient is aware of the potential risk of a treatment or procedure is a powerful defense against lawsuits. Find a translator if necessary.
  • Keep good records and be as specific as possible. If you document every interaction with a patient in the medical chart, you're less likely to be caught off guard. Don't write "I discussed potential risks" - instead, name each potential risk you warned the patient about.
  • If you make a change in a medical record, don't erase anything. Instead, put a line through the error, correct it, write your initials beside the change, and date it, then add a note explaining why the change was necessary. In court, erasures look suspicious.
  • Follow up on tests, especially before a procedure.
  • Get backup. As soon as you've had a chance to say, "I'm sorry"—or perhaps even before—call your risk manager, insurance company, attorney, or someone else on your side to explain the situation.

If you're a nurse

Nurses have a special duty to help patients recover and heal. Nursing is often a labor of love, but it can also be fast-paced, chaotic and stressful. While mistakes are inevitable, nurses can take steps to protect themselves from lawsuits. Here are some tips from American Nurse Today:

  • Know your limits. Don't perform tasks that you don't know how to do.
  • Stay informed. Education doesn't end with nursing school; pursue opportunities to keep up-to-date with your field and add to your knowledge.
  • Be open and honest with patients, but don't rush to take blame for anything.
  • Even if the hospital or facility where you work has its own liability insurance, strongly consider carrying your own policy. If there's ever a suit against you, you'll want an attorney who is working for you, not your employer.
  • Make sure there's a record of all your encounters with patients.
  • Know your equipment. Attend in-house training sessions to make sure you know how to handle any failures or breakdowns.
  • Communicate. Open lines of communication with doctors and other nurses can prevent dangerous and costly misunderstandings.

If you're an attorney

Attorneys often find themselves on the business end of a lawsuit. Even though they practice law, they don't always know how to protect themselves. Here are some tips from the American Bar Association.

  • Have professional malpractice insurance, and make sure you read the fine print.
  • Get a written retainer that spells out your duties each time you sign a new client.
  • Keep records of important decisions and conversations.
  • Keep your client in the loop. He or she should have a clear understanding of the options and the possible outcomes.
  • Avoid irritating your clients. Return calls and emails on time, act professional, and don't ambush them with large bills that they don't expect.
  • Watch those deadlines. Late filings are a leading cause of liability suits against attorneys. Procrastinating or simply losing track of a schedule can be a costly mistake.
  • Be professional and civil at all times. Treat people well, and your reputation will get around.
  • Get feedback. Check in with your clients regularly to make sure they are satisfied with your performance.

If you're a consultant

As a consultant, you help companies achieve their goals and get back on target. In essence, you make your living by dishing out valuable advice. But if you want to avoid getting sued, you may need some advice of your own.

  • Go easy on promises. Assuring a client that they can hit specific numbers with your help just sets everyone up for disappointment.
  • Don't forget about your clients. Check in to see if they are following your recommendations. If they aren't, ask why.
  • Get it in writing. Document every important aspect of the job—including your specific duties and your expectations for your client.
  • Keep your clients happy. If things don't go exactly according to plan, consider offering a discount or a refund. You might be able to avoid hard feelings and even more costly consequences in the future.

If you're an engineer

It takes a team of professionals to build any decent-sized project. But if something goes wrong, it's often engineers who end up taking the blame—and dealing with the lawsuits. Want to avoid trouble? Here are some tips:

  • Be clear in your duties. You're an engineer, not a contractor or a building inspector. If you're writing a report on a job site, make it clear that the final inspection is up to someone else.
  • When talking, keep it simple. Spoken words can be easily misunderstood or misremembered. If you have a complicated issue to discuss with a contractor, put it in writing.
  • Keep careful records. Treat your notes as if they might someday become exhibits in a lawsuit, because they might.
  • Keep an open line of communication with clients. Encourage them to pay close attention to the progress of the project.

If you're a member of the clergy

Members of the clergy have duties that go far beyond leading the Sunday or Saturday services. Pastors, priests, ministers, imams and rabbis often serve as spiritual counselors, and their words carry serious weight with their parishioners. Just like other counselors or therapists, members of the clergy can become targets of lawsuits if someone feels harmed or damaged by their advice. Here are some steps that the clergy can take to protect themselves.

  • Carry professional liability insurance especially designed for the clergy.
  • Understand "clergy privilege." In some states, clergy members who speak with parishioners have the same sort of protection that attorneys have when speaking to clients. But the privilege can have limits. In some places, for example, you may be required to report a suspected case of child abuse.
  • Keep it spiritual. Clergy members are trained to give spiritual advice, not guidance on how to manage money or cope with an illness. Moving beyond your training can invite trouble.
  • Get it in writing. If you're counseling someone, have the person sign an agreement stating that the counseling is spiritual or biblical and not professional.
  • Get backup. If you're working with someone who needs mental health care, refer them to the right professional.
  • Keep records. Clergy members should take note of each counseling session, including the nature of the problem and the spiritual advice that was given.

Advice from a Liability Insurance Agent

Clark Sitzes is the executive vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance and an independent insurance agent for more than a decade. The alliance is a membership organization based in Vancouver, Washington, with agencies in nine western states.

  1. What sort of professionals should have professional liability insurance?
  2. Isn't the insurance usually optional?
  3. Some professionals might think that they don't need insurance because they are so conscientious. What would you say to them?
  4. What should people look for in a policy?
Jeffrey Diamond
Jeffrey Diamond

Adjunct Professor at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School

Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn

Professor of Law

Clark Sitzes
Clark Sitzes

Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance


About Chris Woolston

Chris Woolston headshot

Chris Woolston is a freelance science, health and travel writer whose work has appeared in Nature, the Los Angeles Times, Hippocrates, The Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere. He lives with two Aussiedoodles; his wife, novelist Blythe Woolston; and assorted other family members in Billings, Montana.