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Back to School: What Physicians Need to Know


It's almost back to school time for most of America. Doctors need to be aware of seasonal issues and manage risks whether they have children or not.

It's back to school time for most of America over the next few weeks. This means doctors need to be aware of seasonal issues and manage risks whether they have children or not.

For Physician Parents

If you have kids (including college aged ones) that will be driving for the first time or away from home, you must be protected against your liability for their actions. In the majority of cases high school and college age children drive cars registered to their parents and covered on their parents' insurance policies because it is far cheaper than having their own insurance. Unfortunately, this economic necessity means that you are likely to be financially (and in some cases even criminally) liable for any accidents or abuses they commit while driving.

It's vital that you remember your perceived target value to plaintiffs and their lawyers, they see you as a rich doctor with deep pockets. This is another reason that I have repeatedly cautioned our readers that having your personal use vehicles owned or leased by your medical practice is a terrible idea, you are drawing that liability in to your business by doing so.

The car isn't the only place we've routinely seen significant liability for parents however. You are exposed to liability on many other issues as well including the following that seem to follow groups of kids from even the nicest circumstances, don't make the common mistake of thinking your affluence makes you immune to accidents:

•Online or in person bullying including claims for physical assault, defamation, etc.

•Any acts of vandalism or damage (or criminal conduct) by your child to the property of others including to their school itself.

•Injuries to others on or from your property (boat, cabin, guns, ATVs, etc., think beyond the home) including at parties, even those without your knowledge or consent.

This means being in control of your children's behavior and the use of your property to the greatest extent possible. We have had too many 20/20 hindsight conversations with parents who say they should and could have done more to prevent an exposure, injury or, a fatality. If you can't predictably control behavior, control the property, which means keeping certain items locked up and off limits. In the age of surveillance web cams and GPS trackers, you can keep an eye on almost anything.

As we have covered in detail before, one vital first line of defense for physicians on all these issues is being adequately insured with a personal liability umbrella policy of at least one million dollars, ideally more. It not only provides a first layer of liability protection from issues like a serious car accident that can easily create a million dollars or more worth of liability, it also provides invaluable legal defense against any covered claims.

Not all umbrella polices are created equal and there are many important details including what is covered and what can be covered by adding inexpensive riders. Make sure you are working with an experienced agent (and a reputable insurance carrier) that takes the time to explain these issues and can tell you if you'd be covered from issues like the examples I provide above. Finally, get it writing; if it's not in the policy, it's not covered.

For Every Driver

There are going to be new drivers, more pedestrians and increased traffic everywhere so drive defensively and expect to have to negotiate the less experienced drivers. In addition to being heavily insured, patient, and avoiding conflict be aware of the following:

•Watch for school busses and never pass any bus with the stop sign out or that is unloading passengers.

•Watch out for increased foot and bike traffic, assume they don't know the rules yet.

•Watch for the school zones and crossing guards that may have been missing the last few months.

•Be prepared for increased speed enforcement everywhere.

Finally, please play close attention to where you and others drop off and pick up children. According to a National Safety Council report that should be required reading for every driver in your home., more children are injured by cars in close proximity to a school than anywhere else, so be aware of the rules at all your neighborhood schools and your speed and safety when in the area. 

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