Do All Doctors Have Malpractice Insurance?
The short answer is no. There actually is a law in Florida (see 458.320, F.S. ) that says doctors must carry $100,000 in malpractice insurance in order to practice medicine at all, and in order to have hospital staff privileges (they see patients in hospitals and not just in their offices) they must have at least $250,000 in malpractice insurance. As an alternative to having an actual malpractice insurance policy, Florida law also allows doctors to use other types of pre-arranged secured assets to cover claims in these amounts, like trust accounts, bank letters of credit, and similar arrangements. There is nothing inherently wrong with these other types of security, but they are rarely used.
Unfortunately, these amounts of insurance are often woefully inadequate to pay the actual damages in medical negligence claims. What good is a $250,000 malpractice policy if the patient’s injuries result in medical bills of $600,000? What about wage losses and other damages? And the $250,000 is gross, not net after paying for expenses and attorney’s fees to file a suit to collect the money. Fortunately, some doctors and virtually all hospitals carry insurance policies in larger amounts.
But the law also has a loophole that allows doctors to carry no insurance at all. If your doctor practices without insurance he should have a sign posted on the wall of his office advising his patients of that fact. Of course you have a problem if he doesn’t post a sign and he has no insurance. What will you do, sue him? You still have the difficulty of collecting, because … he has no insurance.
If a hospital is involved in your injury, you may actually be able to sue the hospital for
allowing the doctor to practice there without the required insurance or assets. See your lawyer about that.
Many doctors hold title to their assets in ways to make it difficult to collect a judgment from them personally. CPA’s routinely give seminars to doctors with names like “How to Protect Your Assets From the Trial Lawyers”. They never give those seminars more appropriate names, like “How to Commit Malpractice, Cause Enormous Pain and Financial Injury to Your Patients and their Families, Yet Escape Any Responsibility To Them.”
You certainly should think twice about knowingly going to a doctor who doesn’t carry malpractice insurance. A good doctor wants to have malpractice insurance for 2 reasons. First it pays for his lawyer if he ever needs one to fight a claim that he believes is without merit. But most importantly, if he does make a mistake the insurance is there to help his patient who has been unintentionally injured. If the doctor is a decent human being he knows that he can actually make a mistake, and he cares enough about his patients to want them compensated if he does. There is also something discomforting about any doctor that feels adversarial enough toward his patients that he is even willing to post a sign in his office advising them that they can’t get any money from him if he hurts them.
Something else is alarming about a doctor that posts a sign in his office saying that he doesn’t have malpractice insurance. It may be that he has had so many prior claims, he simply can’t afford to buy insurance anymore because his insurance premiums got too high, or none of the insurance companies are willing to underwrite him. That should worry you as a patient.