General Liability – Chapter 2
The social work profession is indeed a noble one founded on service, integrity, and clinical expertise. At times, it can be a stressful and hazardous occupation. The nation is grateful for what you do, AND SO ARE WE! Thank you!
In August 2019, we published our “General Facts About General Liability” Tip of the Month. Since then, there has been a shift in practice methods that we need to address. Spawned by COVID-19, there has been an increase in walk-and-talk sessions and more sessions occurring out of office venues, aside from an increase in teletherapy.
Our meetings with NASW Chapters have indicated that young clients, particularly teenagers, prefer the outdoor settings for therapy. They appreciate the freedom and enhanced stimulation that the outdoors offers to exchange thoughts compared to being cooped up in a dreary clinical office.
You need to assess if your insurance covers incidents occurring outside of your office while delivering professional services. Does your employer cover you for that? How about your professional liability insurance policy? Probably not.
General Liability insurance is essential for you to own because a good policy will cover you for the liability arising from your client(s)’ property loss, damages, and injury regardless of venue…in your office or at any location in connection with the therapy. Many insurance carriers say they cover you, but when you read their insurance policy forms, you see coverage only applies when delivering professional services. Hence, an injury in an office waiting room or a bathroom is technically not covered.
Moreover, general liability insurance carriers calculate the premium you pay based on your practice’s number of office locations, square footage, and employee census. Even if you have no office or your employer already has a General Liability insurance policy, you better assess your liability. If you perform your services in any venue, there is a risk that your client will suffer a property loss like a stolen wallet, for example, and blame you. That is your responsibility.
The traditionally accepted definition of General Liability insurance covers the insured for negligent acts and/or omissions, or acts during general operation of the business or practice that results in third-party property damage and/or third-party bodily injury while on the business premises. The property damage element refers to the loss or damage to the client and the physical injuries. The third party is your client.
Few General Liability insurance policies (but most do not) extend the “premises” to cover venues outside of the walls of the business premises. Frequently Allied Health workers perform services in various locations outside of the practitioner’s office, such as parks, pools, hotel meeting facilities, fitness centers, home care facilities, and household venues, for example.
General Liability insurance is physical and more generic than Professional Liability insurance, specific to professional practice activities with more significant than average expertise in particular occupational areas. General Liability shields the insured from the broader and “physical in nature” risks such as:
- 3rd party Bodily injury
- 3rd party Property Damage or loss
- Personal injuries and damages
- Lawsuit legal costs
- Medical expenses for injured parties
Here is an example of a general liability case. Recently one of our NASW Risk Retention Group insureds, a psychologist, was sued by a client whose child was in the insured’s waiting room and reached to pat the insured’s dog. The dog was not involved in therapy treatment services and was only in the office because, on that day, the insured did not use a dog sitter. The dog bit the child on the lip and inflicted significant facial injury. Because the child was not a client receiving professional services from the insured (his mother was the client), the Professional Liability policy could not cover the claim. However, unlike other insurance carriers’ General Liability policies, the insured’s NASW Risk Retention Group General Liability policy responded to the claim. It paid the $11,000 liability in bodily injury damages and legal fees. The child is called the third party. The insured social worker is the first party, and the insurance carrier is the second party.
If this incident had occurred outside the insured’s office, virtually all General Liability policies, except for the NASW Risk Retention Group General Liability policy, would have denied coverage. That is because other insurance carriers’ policies cover precisely where and when rendering professional services. Their goal is to exclude as many claims as possible, creating many obstacles for a general liability claim to be eligible.
You may ask, “Tell me more about General Liability, because now I believe that I better buy a good policy.”
According to IRMI, the International Risk Management Institute, 80% of the General Liability policies sold to Allied Health practitioners have the following industry characteristics. Here is the industry compared to the NASW Risk Retention Group General Liability policy:
$500 to $600 annual premium
About half the annual premium
Price based on number of offices,
square footage, number of workers,
flat rate zip code, and foot traffic
Not applicable; unlimited offices,
any & all states, flat rate
Fire liability limited to 1 incident with
No limit on fire liability incidents
$1,000,000 fire limit
Deductibles, many are $2,000
Coverage only for physical office
Coverage for all practice venues
You may ask, “Why is the NASW Risk Retention Group General Liability policy so inexpensive and has more benefits?”
Because the NASW Risk Retention Group passes on the sales agent commissions and profits directly to you in the form of lower premiums and more benefits as a policyholder, and therefore as an owner of the NASW Risk Retention Group insurance company. The profits go back to you as the NASW Risk Retention Group owner, not to a Wall Street stockholder. That enables you to receive more comprehensive coverage and a meager premium.
The next time you get a quote for any insurance policy from another carrier or insurance broker, ask about the broker commission baked into your insurance premium quote. Most insurance brokers pocket a commission from 12% to 30% of the premium you pay.
There is no doubt that your profession is a noble profession with implicit values of service, integrity, and clinical competence. To continue with this effort, you must thoroughly read your liability insurance policies to assess the gaps that exist in your coverage.