Risk Management for Physicians and their Families During Summer

May 27, 2014

Physicians' liability concerns go far beyond their practice. Traveling and teen drivers in particular pose some specific risks every doctor must be aware of.

I have covered a variety of asset protection related issues here and have previously addressed the importance of things like liability insurance umbrella policies as an important, but not complete, first line of defense. This week we start summer, one of the happiest times of year for many physicians, their families and their patients but also one that is often surprisingly full of liability. Here are some issues for to doctors consider to help avoid loss, lawsuit liability or worse.

Going away - vacation time

I've previously devoted an entire article to issues surrounding your personal security while traveling, both at home and at your actual destination if you are fortunate enough to be getting away for any extended period of time. Some of the issues I covered included the protection of your home and business while you are away and your own physical and financial security while traveling; make sure you've taken the simple precautions we've outlined before you go.

Keep an eye on the kids, of any age

In my detailed article on the lawsuit liability that children, even good, smart ones like yours, regularly create for their parents  I outlined a number of very specific exposures. This liability naturally increases during the summer, when many kids are going to have significantly more free, unsupervised time. As recent as that article was, the list has grown, since it was written as technology and smartphones have expanded both the blind spots and risks parents face and their children's reach and options for secrecy.

As attorneys we deal with a number of troubling situations for clients - most of whom are smart successful people, with their children's best interests at heart, but with widely differing parent styles and relationships. Over a decade of experience has provided one very clear pattern in many of the worst cases; you need to draw lines and enforce "right" behavior today. As with any form of asset protection it only works when it is proactive, and statements like, "We should have been stricter with him" or, "We thought she'd turn around and grow out of it" are said at nearly every trial, or worse, funeral of a young person lost to poor judgment.

Not only does your children's behavior have personal consequences that can affect the rest of their life in terms of educational and professional opportunities, it could also cost you everything you own. You are responsible for the actions of your children, in some way, in nearly every state, and most doctors have teen drivers driving cars that are owned and insured by mom and dad.

The 100 deadliest days

The National Safety Council (NSC) and many other organizations issue annual warnings on the so-called "100 deadliest days of the year," the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. According to the AAA, more than 7,300 teen drivers and passengers ages 13 to 19 were killed in auto accidents between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays from 2005-2009 alone. This happy time of year has this dark moniker for many of the reasons we've described above and because teen driving deaths in particular spike during this time of year. The NSC has a great info-graphic you can send your kids, hang in your office (and probably tape to the screen of their iPad, to be sure they see it) that breaks down the reasons that these tragedies spike: driving faster, more free time, more recreational driving, drinking and drug use with older teens, staying out later, and driving with friends (just one teen passenger increases crash risk by a whopping 44 percent).

Here are some specific things parents can do to help:

• Enforce a parent-teen driving contract that makes driving a privilege that requires adherence to a strict set of rules, including driving curfews, no calling or texting while driving, and no drinking and driving.

• Spend at least 30 minutes a week driving with teens so you can see what they do, and where they need correction and reinforcement - including wearing a seatbelt, especially on short trips where most accidents happen. Nearly 50 percent of the teens killed in auto accidents are not wearing a seatbelt.