What is Professional Liability Insurance?

Christopher John

Professional liability insurance is a contract that obligates an insurance company to defend an insured person and to pay a judgment entered against an insured person up to a set policy amount. This kind of insurance provides people with financial protection from lawsuits relating to their profession. Insurance companies often sell professional liability insurance or malpractice insurance to doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, and many other professionals. The person buying the insurance is the insured. The insurance company may also settle a claim against the insured out of court.

Medical professionals such as surgeons typically have malpractice insurance.
Medical professionals such as surgeons typically have malpractice insurance.

The duty to defend the insured is an obligation that arises from professional liability insurance. Typically, the insured person submits a claim to the insurance company, if a client or patient files a lawsuit against the insured in his or her professional capacity. The insurance company will then determine whether the insurance covers the claim. If the claim is covered, the insurance company must pay a lawyer or a law firm to defend the insured against the lawsuit. The lawyers representing the insured will then take action to file a response to the lawsuit, represent the insured in court, advise the insured, and make recommendations as to whether the insured should authorize the case for settlement out of court.

Malpractice insurance may cover lawsuits filed against doctors who have failed to properly diagnose a patient's disease.
Malpractice insurance may cover lawsuits filed against doctors who have failed to properly diagnose a patient's disease.

Professional liability insurance also creates a duty to indemnify the insured. This means that the insurance company must pay a judgment entered against the insured up to an amount specified in the insurance contract. An insurance company that fails to defend or indemnify an insured person in accordance with the professional liability insurance agreement will be in breach of contract. The insured can then file a lawsuit against the insurance company for violating the contract. An insurance company that refuses to pay a valid claim or to defend an insurer is said to be acting in bad faith, which means the insurance company does not have a valid basis to use in denying coverage.

The law obligates professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and architects to provide services based on a certain standard, generally one that the profession establishes as acceptable. For example, a lawyer must perform legal services with diligence, skill, and knowledge that other lawyers in the community typically exercise. A lawyer that fails to meet this professional standard may face a malpractice claim. Professional liability insurance would then operate to protect the lawyer by covering the costs to defend a claim or to pay a judgment entered against the lawyer for malpractice.

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Discussion Comments


@speechie - My graduate program for speech language pathology asked us to do the same (obtain liability insurance). Luckily you can find an insurance company that has a student rate and if I remember correctly it should only be around thirty dollars a year.

And in my mind, the thirty dollars was worth it for the peace it gave me as far as entertaining thoughts of the worst-case scenario.

Although your school can mandate that you get professional liability insurance, you will likely have a choice as you become a fully licensed speech language pathologist.

For example, I work in the school system and have not been required to get liability insurance. But I would suggest having it whether you are required or not; it is difficult to imagine because it is not talked about much in popular culture but even speech therapists have been sued and taken to court.

You can also ask your future employers if they provide professional liability insurance as part of their employee compensation program.


My graduate school program (speech language pathology) is suggesting that since we are providing speech language therapy (although under supervision of a licensed speech language pathologist) that we must obtain professional liability insurance.

Is this common? Will I have to continue to have professional liability insurance as I continue in the speech therapy profession?

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