Regardless of your political position, guns are a reality that physicians must manage like all other medical practice risks. We continue our look at managing firearm related liability in the medical office.
Our last discussion on this issue included sensible security precautions, vital insurance, and the role of a patient gun policy at your practice as ways to insure patient and provider safety. It's also important to be realistic about the internal liability that doctors and staff may bear and create.
Does Your Office Have an Internal Gun Policy?
I previously suggested considering a patient gun policy, but significant liability issues arise when you or staff are armed. Among the most significant issues to consider are:
•Do you have a written office gun policy that employees have been expressly made aware of? You may be held liable for the accidental or intentional gun related injuries of one employee by another.
•Whether you allow firearms at your business or not, the policy should make sense and be designed to require safe and responsible weapon handling and storage and be compliant with local laws. This means it should be part of your professionally drafted employment manual.
•You may also incur liability if you have knowledge that your employees already do possess guns in the workplace. This requires enforced policies on if they may do so or not and if yes, the conditions you require to do so. This control is part of your legal duty as an employer to ensure that the workplace is safe.
•Some states expressly prohibit using firearm ownership or having a concealed carry permit as a basis for hiring discrimination. Others have "parking lot" statutes that say employees have a right to have one in their vehicle. Your policy should include the input of experienced local counsel on these issues.
Know Your Own Liability if You Choose to Carry
I've spoken about these issues with many physicians with strong opinions on both sides of the issue of guns in medical practices. Many physicians across the country do carry and essentially articulate the same thing; they'd rather risk being sued than risk being killed. Practice owners should control their own conduct with great care and follow the same common sense and local law compliant rules as their employees. Your own intentional or accidental acts or omissions may create injuries and liabilities to others including employees, patients, and potential violent aggressors.
The media loves it when respected and arguably high-profile professionals like doctors are on the hot seat. We've all seen sensational news stories of a victim being sued by a criminal or the criminal's family for the injuries they sustained when the victim resisted with deadly force. We've also seen many long, public and expensive trials when the law questions if deadly force has been justifiably used in self-defense. Unfortunately, most insurance coverage will limit or exclude the liability associated with a civil self-defense related lawsuit, (including legal defense costs) whether it is for personal injury or wrongful death.
Similarly, if you face a criminal trial, any legal fees incurred are likely to be out-of-pocket and will easily be six figures unless you are among the small percentage of gun owners that have insurance that specifically covers the costs of legal defense up to a specific limit. This means that physicians (and all other gun owners) that carry a weapon for self-defense must also be legally fortified with insurance and an asset protection plan that proactively makes their assets and income streams legally distinct from their other liabilities. Just as with physical self-defense, financial and legal self-defense requires forethought and planning.
If you do carry, being proficiently trained in the safe and effective use of your weapon and having a working knowledge of local laws is essential. This means knowing both the laws covering carry and possession and the laws that cover the actual legal use of your weapon. Finally, if the unthinkable happens and you have to use your weapon to protect yourself, patients or staff, have an informed plan for what to do immediately afterward. We've previously provided tips from an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help you survive both physically and legally.