Do Nurses Need Malpractice Insurance? Lawsuit Statistics and Advice

Do Nurses Need Malpractice Insurance? Lawsuit Statistics and Advice

One of the most intimidating aspects of being a nurse is the fact that anytime you are performing your job duties, you are running some risk of being sued. Poor documentation and medication errors are only a few of the many reasons why a nurse may get sued. Nurses can protect themselves from hefty litigation fees by being prepared with nursing liability insurance, but many nurses wonder if it is necessary and, if so, how to go about getting it.


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Sophia M.


November 17, 2022

Do Nurses Need Malpractice Insurance?

Although you can definitely work as a nurse without your own malpractice insurance, this isn’t recommended. Nurses can be sued for all types of things, some of which they may not even be at fault for, so making sure you’re covered is incredibly important. If you’re lucky, your hospital may offer malpractice insurance at a discounted rate as a part of your employee benefits, but this depends on where you work so you’ll need to check with your hospital’s specific benefits. 

Hospital-provided malpractice insurance may cover you in the event of a lawsuit but it may not cover you if a patient files a complaint with the board of nursing. In this event, you could lose your license. If you purchase your own malpractice insurance, you can choose a policy that covers complaints to the board of nursing in addition to lawsuits. 

Your employer will obviously hold their own malpractice insurance that helps protect them in the event of a lawsuit, but this won’t always act in your favor. By having your own individual policy, you’ll always know that you’ll have someone on your side. If you do decide that you’re comfortable relying on your employer’s insurance then you’ll definitely want to read the policy information closely so you know in exactly what ways you are protected. 

Do Nurses Have to Pay for Malpractice Insurance?

Yes, you’ll need to pay for your own malpractice insurance in one way or another. If your hospital offers an individual plan through your employee benefits, this will come out of your paycheck in the same way that your health insurance does. Even if you choose to purchase your own nursing liability insurance, it will come at a very affordable price — making it entirely worth it. On average, malpractice insurance for nurses costs about $100 per year for coverage of up to $1,000,000 in litigation fees. 

Do Nursing Students Need Malpractice Insurance?

Interestingly enough, even nursing students are not entirely safe from a lawsuit. Once you transition into the clinical portion of your training, you will be placed in a high-risk environment. Nursing students often get to perform their own assessments, do charts and even administer medications to patients. All of these tasks carry risks and make students a part of the healthcare team. In the event that a lawsuit does happen, nursing students can definitely be pulled into the lawsuit since they are a part of this team. 

Although I’ll be the first to admit that I never had malpractice insurance while in nursing school, in hindsight I kind of wish I did. I honestly didn’t realize that I was at risk of being sued back then and had I known, I definitely would have looked into getting coverage. 

Malpractice insurance for nursing students is incredibly affordable, costing around $35 per year for up to $1,000,000 in coverage. Some universities offer coverage for their students but these policies can have limitations,so if you want to ensure that you are fully covered, you’ll want to get a policy of your own. Luckily, nursing lawsuits involving students are very rare. According to the latest NSO Claim report, nursing students represented less than 1% of all recent claims. 

Nurse Lawsuit Statistics 

Registered nurses represent the most commonly sued type of nurse, representing 86.8% of claims when compared with LPNs and nursing students. This isn’t very surprising given that registered nurses have more autonomy than other types of nurses so their likelihood of being at fault is higher. 

Medical-surgical nursing represents the most frequently sued nursing specialty, accounting for 36.1% of lawsuits. Again, I find this unsurprising given that med/surg nurses typically have higher patient ratios, making them more prone to mistakes. One surprising statistic I found was that experienced nurses were sued more than new nurses. Nurses with more than 16 years of experience represented 85% of malpractice claims

Every 5 years, the CNA and NSO do an in-depth analysis of nursing claims and lawsuits to determine the areas of highest concern and help nurses better prevent these types of issues. This report, called the Nurse Professional Liability Exposure Claim Report, is a great resource for any nurse and nursing student to read through to help better understand why and how nursing lawsuits happen. Download the full report here

What Do Nurse Lawsuits Look Like? 

The court defines nursing malpractice based on four factors: duty, breach, cause, and harm. 

  1. Duty describes the requirement for a nurse-patient relationship to exist. 
  2. Breach means that some standard of nursing care was left unmet. 
  3. When looking at the cause of the incident, it must be related to the nurse’s error. 
  4. Lastly, harm represents the resulting damages of the incident. 

Specific malpractice incidents will be further analyzed by looking at other members of the healthcare team who contributed to the patient’s care and any other factors that may have come into play. You’ll likely have to attend meetings (in person or virtual), which involve an in-depth analysis of all the events that took place with questions that will be answered by all members of the healthcare team. 

What Are the Risks of Practicing Without Malpractice Insurance?

The obvious and typically most feared risk of being sued as a nurse is losing the license you’ve worked so hard for. This is definitely a serious risk but it is not the only risk. Getting sued as a nurse could result in job loss, high litigation expenses, and even bankruptcy. 

On average, the cost of malpractice lawsuits against a nurse cost $164,586, and even if you win in a lawsuit you’ll still have attorney fees to pay. Many nurses make the mistake of believing that only hospitals and doctors get sued but unfortunately, nurses are not safe from being sued and having malpractice insurance is the best way to protect yourself. 

One important aspect of being a nurse is having a strong sense of integrity and a willingness to take accountability for your actions. However, even the most thorough nurse could still wind up involved in a lawsuit that requires them to spend money on an attorney. For example, if another healthcare professional made a mistake while caring for a patient that you also cared for, you may end up being required to testify. 

Another reason it would be worth your while to have liability insurance is because claims left unpaid can hurt your credit immensely. So, if you end up with litigation fees that you can’t pay, you could end up with damaged credit (making it difficult to get a loan or open a credit card in the future). The court could even come after your assets if you leave claims unpaid. 

Where to Get Malpractice Insurance

Once you weigh the risks and benefits of having nursing liability insurance, it is pretty clear that being covered is the smarter choice. Because malpractice insurance comes at an affordable price for nurses and nursing students, it’s definitely worth it to go ahead and get coverage. NSO offers affordable nursing liability insurance and plenty of helpful resources to help new and experienced nurses buy individual liability coverage. 

Thoughts on Malpractice Insurance from an Experienced Nurse

I’ve been lucky enough to never be involved in any type of malpractice lawsuit, but after working on a busy, understaffed med-surg unit I can see how these lawsuits can happen. At my first nursing job, I was teamed up with an LPN who administered the medications to my patients while I performed the assessments and the charting. Together, the LPN and I cared for 8 patients at a time. It often felt like I had way too much on my plate during my shifts and sometimes I felt completely in the dark about the medications my patients were on, since I wasn’t the one giving them. It was hectic and stressful and I’m grateful that I came out of this job having not made any serious mistakes, but not every nurse can be that lucky. I was also quickly thrown into my job with a minimal amount of training as a new graduate nurse, so often I felt like I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was doing and on days when the unit was understaffed, it was hard to find anyone to turn to for advice. 

If you’re considering getting malpractice insurance as a nurse or nursing student, then it’s probably time to just go ahead and get it. Nursing salaries are definitely high enough to afford a $100 policy and students will likely be able to get coverage for much lower than this. If you’re worried about the cost of coverage just remember that it is nothing compared to the price you’ll have to pay if you end up in a lawsuit.

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