The Florida medical malpractice insurance market has gone through periods of a very hard market, causing significant financial strain for physicians and surgeons. Prior to Florida tort reform being put in place, Florida medical malpractice insurance premiums were some of the highest for physicians in the nation. The premiums rose so high during the peak years of the hard market that many physicians opted to “go bare,” meaning they practiced with no medical liability insurance coverage in place. The state of Florida allows physicians to do this as long as they follow the protocols required by the state.
South Florida, referring to Miami and Palm Beach, became the territory where medical malpractice insurance companies were very reluctant to offer policies to physicians practicing medicine. Liberal jury awards in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties drove medical malpractice premiums to be some of the highest in the country. As a result, premiums for OB/GYN medical malpractice insurance rose to rates of over $200,000 per year. Many physicians and surgeons took advantage of asset protection and began practicing without medical malpractice insurance coverage in place.
How Can Doctors Protect Themselves While “Going Bare?”
If you do decide to “go bare,” I suggest you talk with a medical liability insurance consultant or a lawyer to get a clear picture of the medical liability you will be taking on. There are several things that you want to consider before “going bare.”
First, you want to set up an asset protection plan in place to protect your financial assets in the event of a medical malpractice lawsuit. The second consideration is that you should have a legal defense plan in place to minimize the risk of exorbitant legal defense expenses in the event of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most medical malpractice insurance defense attorneys will charge upwards of over $300 per hour. It is important to keep in mind that the average cost to medical malpractice insurance companies to defend medical malpractice cases is estimated to be roughly $25,000. If the case goes to a lengthy trial, the legal cost of defense is often over $100,000.
Many doctors feel that if they have a patient sign a ‘release from liability’ form, they are off the hook of getting sued for medical malpractice. This could not be further from the truth.
Release forms do help attorneys defend physicians in medical malpractice claims, but are just one part of a physicians risk management and liability shielding program. By no means do ‘release from liability’ forms make a physician free from medical malpractice claims being filed against them. If you receive a medical malpractice claim you will need to hire a lawyer to defend the claim. As mentioned above medical malpractice defense lawyers are highly trained attorneys and are very expensive on an hourly basis. A release form might help a lawyer defend you, but you still have to pay the defense costs.
What if the Release Form Does Not Carry Much Weight in the Court?
Physicians today are under the false assumption that if they do not carry medical malpractice insurance, and there is no insurance money to go after, that they cannot be sued, or that they cannot lose money. This is a dangerous misconception.
Courts do have the ability to garnish future wages. For example, if a physician makes a mistake and causes the patient damage, that damage could have an effect of the patient’s future earning potential. If the courts find that the damage will cost the patient $200,000 over the next ten years, the courts have the power to garnish that physicians future earnings to pay the patient over time for those damages done to the patient.
Conclusion – Practicing Without Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance, “Going Bare”
If you choose to “go bare” and use a ‘release from liability’ form, be aware that “going bare” will never replace the value of medical malpractice insurance. Physicians and surgeons cannot be released from liability prior to performing a procedure done if there is negligence in the work that they performed. That is a well-established case law fact in the United States. If you think you might want to practice with out coverage we suggest talking with a medical malpractice insurance professional and also a lawyer.
The Florida medical malpractice insurance market has softened considerably since tort reform was put in place. The Florida market has seen many new medical liability insurance carriers enter the state and provide more options for physicians and surgeons. Most importantly, medical malpractice insurance premiums have come down significantly. While the premiums in Florida are still high compared to most states around the country, they are now more affordable offering physician’s better options, and giving them the ability to practice without “going bare.”