safety at harvest

Harvest Safety

The harvest is in full swing and businesses connected to agriculture feel the pressure to get the bounty from field to table as quickly as possible. For family and corporate farms alike, the busy season brings longer hours, more work, and much more opportunity for injury.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish quite a bit on the topic of agricultural safety. Farming is among the most hazardous industries and it is also an occupation that puts children and young adults at risk more than any other occupation. “On average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries,” notes the site. Machinery is responsible for a bulk of the fatalities, but farming also exposes workers to pesticides, which can lead to breathing issues and neurological problems, as well. The site also notes that 167 agricultural workers a day suffer an injury that causes them to miss work.

Keeping safe

The CDC reports that one of the most effective safety precautions a farmer can take is installing rollover protection devices like tractors and combines, which can be expensive, depending on the type of equipment that’s being protected. A newer program available to farmers is the “Cost-effective Rollover Protective Structures” or CROPS, which was developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Safety Research and Protective Technology Branch as a lower-cost way to help prevent a tractor from rolling over.

Safety issues extend far beyond machinery, however, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published a Farm Safety fact sheet that provides an overview of all the safety concerns on a farm, urging famers to always use the right protective equipment, even if it’s a simple pair of gloves. The publication also urges farm owners and managers to have disaster plans in place for emergencies that can happen on the farm.

Commercial and family farmers also need to maintain health and safety standards when using pesticides. Regulations covering the use of pesticides require that farm owners and employers provide the appropriate protection to workers who handle pesticides, and train them on the safe use of chemicals and pesticides. Current standards are published on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Insuring against injury

The best insurance against injury on the farm is safety, and it’s critical that everyone working on the farm knows and understands proper precautions and procedures, particularly during harvest when extra workers are being hired. The next most important insurance is having the correct procedures in place and known to everyone – from first aid stations to emergency evacuation plans.

Insurance comes after the fact when it comes to injuries on the farm, but it’s important to make sure you’re covered for injuries for yourself, your family, your employees and seasonal employees and your property. It’s also a very good idea to check in with your insurance provider and/or local university extension to see make sure your practices and procedures are current – particularly when it comes to chemical and pesticide use.

Farm owners who feel they need more coverage might want to consider the benefits they can get from an enterprise risk captive. Contact us if we can provide you with additional information on how a captive can insure you if you find it difficult to buy an appropriate plan on the commercial market, or if deductibles are getting too high and you’d like to reduce costs.

image of outdoor holiday market

Temporary Workers – Full-time Liability

Retailers, transportation specialists, restaurants, catering companies – so many businesses are gearing up for the season right now and hiring temporary workers to help meet holiday demand. As hectic as it can be around the holidays, it is important to keep labor practices in mind when hiring, training, and managing part time employees. Here are some guidelines:

Independent contractors or employees?

It’s sometimes difficult to know how to classify a part-time worker. A simple guideline to follow is: An independent contractor is a self-employed worker who is providing a service to you, and is largely unsupervised while they work. You pay their invoices, but you are not responsible for their payroll taxes. You do report their income to the IRS if it’s more than $600.

An employee – even a part-time seasonal employee – should be added to the payroll. Payroll employees are supervised by you, follow a schedule that you dictate, and are assigned to work in certain areas in your workplace (a desk, or a section of your store, for example.) Consult the Small Business Administration’s helpful guidelines on W-2 vs 1099 employees for additional information.

As employees on your payroll, part-time seasonal workers receive the same benefits as regular employees do, including unemployment benefits, social security and Medicare, worker’s compensation.

As the employer, you’re liable

Seasonal employees are with you for a short time, but they are still governed by the same rules that apply to full-time employees. They’re allowed the same amount of breaks, and are subject to guidelines for overtime that apply to full-time employees. Additionally, they are covered under the same guidelines for discrimination and other employment practices liability as any other employee. All of these guidelines are outlined by the United State Department of Labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Short-term employees are under the gun to learn quickly and start working right away, but don’t skimp on training, especially if they’ll be operating any kind of equipment or doing strenuous work that could lead to injury. Train them carefully and make sure they’re up to the task.

You’ll also want to check with your insurance provider to make sure you have the right kind of coverage for added employees. Your insurance provider can add additional coverage if needed.

Tis the seasonal

As you consider the seasonality of your business, work with your insurance provider to make sure you’re covered throughout the year. Ask about any types of coverage you should add, or how you might be able to avoid paying too much for coverage that’s only needed once or twice a year.

Some companies are completely dependent on seasonal employees and just a few weeks during the holiday shopping season can make or break an entire year. It’s really important to be sure you’re covered for those few critical weeks.

So, make your plans, talk with your broker, and get your holiday workforce trained and ready. And if you’re still worried about the risks you face with seasonal employees, then think about how an enterprise risk captive could help you – call us if we can help.

dental malpractice insurance

Dental Professionals and Malpractice

On average, dental professionals experience smaller malpractice claims than medical doctors and surgeons do. The average claim against a dentist is typically between $12,000 and $15,000. Dentists and orthodontists who perform surgery, offer implant services, or use general anesthesia have a higher degree of risk.

But there are cases where dental professionals are responsible for big judgments. Some examples from the past year include a dentist who didn’t fully investigate a lesion which was later diagnosed as an odontogenic myxoma, or small tumor. The result was a $500,000 verdict for the plaintiff. Failure on the part of a dentist to diagnose a jaw infection from a patient’s phone call also resulted in a suit – the patient’s initial report of pain following installation of a splint for TMJ wasn’t acted on appropriately, and required extensive treatment, jaw reconstruction, and a $2.7 million net verdict.

Hygienists are liable too

Dental hygienists often work as independent contractors, or can be sued separately from the dentist. From small mistakes that lead to the need for additional corrective work, to cases brought against hygienists for missing signs of oral cancer, hygienists are under the same scrutiny as the dentists they work with, and face similar liability issues.

Dental practices should be insured for a number of eventualities. Management of patient records, maintaining complicated and pricey equipment, and overseeing contracts with suppliers of everything from mouthwash to high-tech instruments and dental implants all falls under the purview of the average small to midsized dental practice – that’s a lot to oversee.

As practices grow over time, insurance needs change. Recent updates to HIPPA regulations, conversion to Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and new products and services that dentists can offer have many dentists re-evaluating their current insurance coverages.  A short list of the type of insurance a dental practice should have:

Medical malpractice insurance for the corporation and for individuals who work with patients. Also, be sure insurance isn’t location specific if you sometimes practice outside of your office – at a nursing home, or covering for another dentist in his office, for example.

Business and office insurance for your facility, or even for accidents that may occur while one of your employees is en route to the bank to make a deposit for you. Consider any temporary help you may need during a year and make sure there is coverage for them. Consider all of the regular insurance you’ll need to cover medical records if they are ever lost, stolen, mislaid, or destroyed by flood or fire, and think about business interruption coverage due to any kind of small disaster – from a tree that falls and cuts off your electricity for the day to more serious causes of work stoppage.

Employer liability insurance – to help defray the costs of labor lawsuits, sexual harassment, and defamation of character suits.

How to protect your practice

Potentially costly malpractice suits pose the greatest threat to dentists, and avoiding them should be top priority at any practice. The American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct offers the industry standard for dentists, outlining the ethics and behavior that should guide any dentists through best practices in communication and interaction with patients, as well as guidelines for how to run their practice. Additionally, the organization offers advice on selecting and maintaining the right kind of insurance, (and offers insurance to its members.)

Establish best practices for employees, and implement procedures that everyone in the office will follow – from the receptionist, to the assistant, the hygienists and dental practitioners. Providing consistent, quality care is the first step in avoiding issues.

Also, consider carefully what to do when problems do arise. Develop a patient-oriented approach to follow-up, and establish clear lines of communication about who in your office should handle medical questions patients might have. Work with peers and professional organizations to find out what the current best practices are, and consider sharing knowledge about employee handbooks and training that can help you establish the right kind of procedures – it’s not easy to run a dental practice, so get as much support as you can.

 

What kind of coverage do you carry?

Depending on the size of your practice, you may or may not be able to buy all the coverage you need on the open market. Dental liability insurance is unavailable in some states, or is unavailable to certain types of practices, so it may be the case that you can’t purchase the coverage you need on the open market.

To make sure you’ve considered all the options, look into an enterprise risk captive for your practice. This solution could provide you with more coverage or help to lower some of the deductibles you have with your current insurance. Talk with your provider or call us for additional information.

homes damaged after Hurrican Sandy - liability questions still loom

Altered Damage Reports after Sandy lead to Questions on Liability

During federal court hearings related to Hurricane Sandy last month, an engineer at an insurance forensics firm disclosed that he had altered reports on structural damage to private homes under the auspices of “peer review” without discussing his changes with the original author of the reports, and without visiting the properties he was writing about. His updates altered the original contents of the reports to infer that damage to the structures was due to “house settling” and not the result of Hurricane Sandy, making it plausible for the insurance company to deny claims for structural damage. The issue will most likely come under further investigation as Sen. Menendez of New Jersey is asking the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to take immediate action. (FEMA oversees the National Flood Insurance Program.)

During times of stress and crisis, maintaining the integrity of corporate processes can get dicey. Recent events like Sandy, and also the foreclosure crisis, showed us how institutions of all kinds can act badly when under a huge amount of stress. Enormous pressure from the senior leadership, increased workloads, and fear of a dark future can cause middle management to act irrationally – remember how banks were robo-signing foreclosures during the financial crisis?

When the dust settles

A rush to judgment in the middle of a crisis can have bad ramifications later on. Hundreds of homeowners are now involved in the Sandy forensics investigation, the insurance companies involved will have to consider their liability, and the forensics firm will suffer dearly if the practices are found to be intentional.

Suits like this remind us how important it is to keep cool in a crisis. From senior leadership and on down the line, it’s critical to develop crisis plans, review them carefully, and stick to them when the crisis hits. It’s also an important time to communicate effectively, and develop safety nets for employees who feel the burden of stress as they carry out their jobs. The best time to consult a crisis management firm is long before the crisis ever hits. Work with professionals who can help you prepare for dealing with a disaster so that when it comes your senior managers know what to do and middle managers do, too.

Suits like this also remind us how important it is to carry effective liability insurance. Even the most well-trained employees might succumb to pressure from a superior, or employees may simply not be ready to handle the sudden increase in volume and pressure that a crisis conjures, and as a result, they’ll make some bad mistakes that will cost you dearly later.

Lessons from Sandy

There are many lessons we’re learning from Hurricane Sandy. Builders are getting more realistic about the type of housing that should – and shouldn’t – be built near the shoreline, communities are reconsidering shoreline property and updating disaster plans, and agencies from FEMA, to the Red Cross, to major insurers in the region are re-evaluating how they do business. While this story may not be the end of bad news about bad practices during Sandy, let’s hope it’s the beginning of a smarter era for best practices as relates to hurricanes, flooding, and other weather-related disasters.

In the meantime, work with your teams to make sure they know how to act in a crisis, and check with your insurance provider to make sure you are covered if an employee acts badly at your company. If you feel you’re exposed to more risk that you can absorb, you may want to look at forming an enterprise risk captive insurance company. Contact us if we can help.

medical liability

Nuances of Liability Coverage Can leave Practice Owners and Doctors in the Lurch

Doctors face a great deal of pressure when it comes to potential lawsuits. Suits can be damaging to their reputation, and they can take a long time to resolve. There is quite a bit of heartache involved, and a great deal of personal expense – sometimes, more than you’d think. While many doctors pay dearly to cover their practice and themselves with liability insurance, often, that insurance isn’t enough. Plaintiffs can seek damages that eat into doctor’s personal assets – or even those of their spouse.

Medical liability insurance

Doctors who have practiced more than 20 years might remember a time when medical liability insurance was a practical solution that offered all-around adequate coverage for their practice and for any suits they might encounter.

These days, liability costs are high and a web of state-by-state laws and regulations indicate varied coverage and outcomes for any given case.

Writing for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Drs. Howard B. Yeon and James H. Herndon present a case for understanding what kind of insurance medical practitioners need to have and provide some suggestions on how doctors can protect their assets.

The doctors argue that most “off-the-shelf” liability coverage plans are probably not enough to cover each eventuality a doctor faces, and they contend that simply spending more on a policy isn’t doesn’t guarantee full and adequate coverage.

Plaintiffs and their attorneys, the authors contend, look for doctors with deep pockets. Lawyers take cases where defendants carry good insurance policies, but they also look at a physician’s personal assets, particularly assets that are unprotected or under-protected. “A search of state and county records can uncover real estate, corporations, and other assets held in the name of the physician or his or her spouse,” they warn.

Protecting assets beyond traditional insurance

The doctors – who together hold degrees from Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program – give some good advice about the need for doctors to protect their personal assets and limit liability. They also urge doctors and practice owners to take the time to understand their current insurance strategy and work with their insurer on an ongoing basis to make sure their coverage is adequate.

It is very important for doctors to explore all coverage and risk management options. When protections offered on the standard insurance market seem too costly, or are unavailable to certain types of doctors or practices, there is also the option to create enterprise risk captives to protect a practice. Doctors should take the advice they so often give out: Consider all options, make the best decision possible, then prepare for the worst while you hope for the best. If we can help you better understand how an enterprise risk captive could work for your practice, please contact us.

Port of Los Angeles

As the Holidays Approach, Ships are kept at Bay

As the Oregonian reported recently, labor issues on the West Coast are “threatening the on-time delivery of some holiday goods.”

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is charging that union workers are staging an intentional slowdown as the holidays approach in order to gain leverage. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) contend that poor working conditions and a lack of trucks to pull containers off the ports are contributing to the slowdown, but it’s clear that the dockworkers are frustrated with contract negotiations over their contract which expired in July.

There are 29 ports between Seattle and San Diego, and as containers build up on the docks, boats are beginning to backlog. Currently there are 10 ships anchored off the coast of Los Angeles waiting for dock space.

How will the slowdown impact commerce?

Last year, almost $900 billion in goods were brought into the U.S. via the West Coast ports. While a work slowdown at almost any time of the year has an impact on the economy at large, slow-downs or stoppages this close to Black Friday, the kickoff of the retail holiday season, could make or break some retailers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that fear over a strike or lockout looms as the fight between the union and the PMA escalates and becomes more public. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has written a letter to President Obama urging the installation of a federal mediator to avoid work disruptions.

The NRF in association with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) issued a report in June that warned of a $2 billion a day cost to the U.S. economy if the ports were shut down. A shutdown could reduce U.S. GDP by $1.9 billion a day during a five-day stoppage, reports Global Trade magazine. A 20-day stoppage could result in a loss of $2.5 billion a day.

Will this impact your business?

If you have goods sitting on a ship that’s anchored off the cost of California, you can very well expect a delay in delivery – and vice versa if your goods are on their way out of West Coast ports. What can you do? Communicate with customers in your supply chain who might be waiting for delivery, and then communicate with your representatives in Washington, D.C., to urge action on behalf of the federal government.

If work stoppages do occur, check with your insurance provider to see if you are covered for supply chain disruption or if you have any kind of coverage that might lessen the burden of your losses from a strike.

Work stoppages and slowdowns happen. The last prolonged shutdown in the U.S. was in 2002, but depending on what kind of business you own, work stoppages elsewhere might be just as harmful to you.

Talk with your insurance provider about what kind of coverage is available. If you feel the coverage offered in the market is inadequate for your needs, consider forming an enterprise risk captive that can help you bridge this very real risk in the future. Call us if we can help you.

wwe werestlers

Fighting the Goods Fight – Counterfeit Liability

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been involved in an interesting suit the year. Irritated by the amount of counterfeit swag that is sold outside of venues holding WWE matches, the company asked the courts if it could be “deputized” in order to seize counterfeit merchandise. The federal judge who first heard the case felt that, if the company wanted ex parte seizure rights, it would need to name the counterfeiters first before acting against them.

WWE argued that it couldn’t possibly know in advance who might be outside selling counterfeit WWE wares. However, since WWE doesn’t license third-party retailers to sell WWE merchandise outside of the venue, identifying the bootleggers would be easy. The saga came before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which believes WWE should get the relief they seek from counterfeiters, but was unsure about allowing WWE to carry out the seizure orders themselves.

Who enforces seizure, and how?

The case conjures up an interesting vision of wrestlers toppling card tables outside of stadiums and grabbing all the bootlegged merchandise they can get their hands on. The vision should frighten retailers a bit. Counterfeiting is a growing problem in the U.S., and companies who make the real thing are getting just as irritated as WWE.

Certainly non-licensed sports apparel and fake purses are the most visible counterfeit goods out there, but a whole host of products are making their way to consumers, from fish and olive oil to an entire chain of fake Apple stores in China, manufacturers and retailers alike are being undersold and undercut, and they’re unhappy.

The WWE ruling, however, could add a new layer of liability to the mess. What if you’re a retailer and it is discovered that you have a large cache of counterfeit goods in your store? Does the Fifth Circuit’s ruling mean that the license holder can walk into your establishment and pull the goods directly from your shelf?

It’s hard to tell. At this point, the WWE is tasked with going back to the drawing table to explain to the court how the company intends to seize the property without the help of authorities. Once WWE lawyers come up with a plan, it will be up to the court to make its final ruling.

What is your liability in a counterfeit scenario?

Depending on what type of goods you sell, you may certainly lose the cost of what you paid for counterfeit goods if you’re selling them. But you also have a responsibility to consider the serious health and safety concerns associated with selling counterfeit goods like baby formula, electronics, or medications.

The long-term impact of selling damaged goods could hurt your reputation and force you to suffer extended losses. You might also want to consider how the goods got into your store in the first place – was it from a shipment far away, or is the switch happening at your own back door due to organized crime or other criminal activity?

The International Trademark Association offers some good advice about counterfeiting, and you should work with your staff to establish best practices throughout your organization to avoid receiving counterfeit goods in the first place, and then work with your lawyers and insurance professionals to get a read on how much you are exposed to counterfeit operations.

If you find your level of exposure is high, but it’s difficult to find a policy that will cover you, consider forming an enterprise risk captive to maintain the level of coverage. Contact us if we can help you.

green goblin

Keeping the Liability Goblins at Bay

There have been a few law suits recently that looked more like hoaxes or stories you’d read in the Onion than actual liability cases.

Disappearing act

One such story involved Snapchat. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, it’s an instant messaging feature used mainly by the younger generations for instant – and supposedly ephemeral –communications (the messages and/or images sent were supposed to disappear automatically and forever after they are opened and viewed.)

Earlier this year, Snapchat settled with the FTC, admitting that their claims of disappearing images were false, and also admitting that they were collecting data on users including location and contacts information. Like unsettled spirits, it seems, data and images never really go away, instead they turn up at the most inopportune moments to haunt you.

It gives you wings – or $10

In another suit, Red Bull customer Benjamin Careathers sued the energy drink manufacturer for false claims. Though it was widely reported that Careathers sued over the fact that he didn’t sprout wings, as per Red Bull’s tagline, “it gives you wings”, Careathers suit was more focused on the drink’s claims as a provider of energy. “Red Bull defendants prey upon consumers by promising that, among other things, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ by providing a mixture of ingredients that, when ingested significantly improve a consumer’s physical and mental performance,” notes the lawsuit.

Instead of battling the suit in courts, Red Bull offered a settlement of $10 cash or $15 in product to any U.S. consumer who had purchased Red Bull since 2002. Doubtless, the marketing-savvy company is hoping the settlement will have wings of its own and turn into yet another promotional opportunity for the drink.

False claims can hurt you

False claims, even when they’re tongue-in-cheek, can be devastating to a company. There are false claims from countless health products – think of vitamins and herbal supplements that make unbelievable claims about weight loss – and there always seems to be a suit about a car company exaggerating its miles per gallon, Hyundai being among the most recent.

In addition to big consumer cases, however, even smaller businesses need to worry about making false claims on contracts. From employment contracts to sales contracts, an exaggeration might encourage a candidate to say “yes” to a job offer, or push a sale through, but later you might find out where the thin line is between “exaggeration” and “false claim”.

False Claims Act – the Lincoln Law

False claims have been a serious crime in the U.S. ever since the government enacted the False Claims Act during the Civil War to establish clear liability for anyone who “knowingly submitted false claims to the government.” The Justice Department has published an excellent primer on the act, which is known affectionately as the Lincoln Law, or FCA. During the past few years, there has been a surge in the number of false claims filed. The Association of Corporate Counsel notes that FCA suits “used to be a risk mostly confined to the medical and procurement industries, now communication companies, commercial lenders, energy providers, international trade companies, and entities in a variety of other nontraditional industries are routinely FCA targets.” Any company doing business with the government needs to be aware of their liability risk, urges the association.

Staying away from false claims

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself against commercial or government false claims lawsuits. First, make sure you have marketing and legal professionals on your team who understand intellectual property laws, contract law, and possess a certain degree of professional common sense. You don’t want to wind up passing every single line through legal, but you do want to know that members of your team will make solid, informed decisions about what you say in public advertising and official documents.

Be sure you’ve got good research from reputable firms. There are plenty of research firms out there that will give you the answer you want – so make sure you hire researchers that will give you the right answers.

You can never be 100 percent sure that every claim you make – or every tagline your ad agency writes – will be foolproof. Be sure you’re covered. Work with your insurance agent to make sure you have coverage for false claims lawsuits, particularly if your company holds any government contracts. If you feel you might be susceptible to frivolous suits, contact us to find out how enterprise risk captive insurance could help round out your coverage scenario.

Illustration of polar vortex

The Polar Vortex and your Business

Our offices are located in Denver, so throughout the winter, and even sometimes when it seems like it should be summer, we keep a close eye on what the forecasters are saying. We winced slightly at recent reports that promised more polar vortex this winter. Of course, it depends on who you listen to. The National Weather Service says vortex! The Old Farmer’s Almanac isn’t quite as frightening. But when it comes to long term predictions, we can be certain that weather will be the source of problems sometime over the next few years, it’s just a fact of life.

The economic impact of the polar vortex

CBS News reports that the economic impact of last year’s polar vortex could reach $5 billion. Lost productivity, increases in heating costs, and drops in consumer spending were some of the biggest financial hits, with flight cancellations smarting for the airline industry at $1.4 billion.

Bloomberg reported that freezing temperatures and snow put the freeze on earnings, as well, though the article also mused that companies like McDonald’s and General Motors might have been using the cold to put the big chill on rumors about their cooling performance.

The truth is, the weather – mild or freezing, snowy or clear– will impact each business differently. Here in Colorado, snow is good business for the ski resorts, and all of us celebrate using four wheel drive once the snow hits, but just a touch of the stuff in a town like Dallas or Atlanta can put an entire region out of business for days.

Bad weather can be the cause of work stoppages and property damage, business face a host of additional issues due to weather. For example, the polar vortex of 2014 put a huge strain on the energy sector. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation found that the polar vortex caused curtailments and interruptions of the fuel supply, making industry vulnerable. The supply chain at large was at risk, as transportation providers (water, land, and air) slowed down or stopped completely during storms and freezing weather. Extreme cold in regions where freezing temperatures are far from the norm caused frozen pipes and many related nuisance issues at factories and work sites.

You may need more than a shovel

A second polar vortex could upset U.S. GDP forecasts, warns the International Business Times. Have you considered what kind of impact another winter with sustained freezing temperatures could mean to your business, your industry, or your supply chain? Sit down with your team and consider some of the most important projects you’re working on over the winter months and decide if you should make any contingency plans. Consider any safety issues you might want to address from a facilities standpoint before the weather gets too cold, and pre-order essential parts or shipments that would put you out of business if you were without them for more than a day or two.

The lesson we should take from the polar vortex is being prepared can save you.

As you make preparations for the winter months, work with your broker to make sure your business, your facilities, and even your key executives are covered by the right kind of insurance. Winter storms take a toll on property, but can also keep your executives away from key meetings or other critical functions that can make or break deals. With the right kind of insurance in place, you can feel the assurance of good coverage, even when you’re covered in snow. Let us know if we can help you better understand how enterprise risk captives can help shape your insurance picture.

electronic heatlh records

Electronic Health Records and Liability

If you work in the healthcare business in any capacity, you’ve probably heard about the switch to Electronic Health Records (EHR) that requires healthcare providers to convert patients’ paper records into standardized, accessible electronic records by 2015 (see a full schedule for deadlines here.) This massive sea change in how patient records are made, kept, and stored, has been a long time coming, but now the conversion to this kind of record keeping is a mandate, so all healthcare providers need to comply with guidelines. You can read all about it on HealthIT.gov.

Doctors who have a small, one-person practice must comply in the same way major clinics do. The new EHR guidelines also require healthcare providers to pay attention to a wide range of privacy and security issues including wireless Internet security and access to Wi-Fi networks and all staff must keep records out of patients’ view, which is a bit tricky when files are now on computer screens instead of manila folders.

All of these new regulations lead to a whole new set of potential liabilities for healthcare providers and the companies that support them, and everyone involved is updating their insurance policies as they upgrade their systems.

Insurance issues connected to EHRs

The Insurance Journal cites a few academic papers that caution healthcare professionals about liability. From malpractice claims to privacy breach claims, providers are responsible for maintaining accurate records, and keeping them accessible to the right people and safe from the wrong people. Data breaches in healthcare are pervasive in the industry. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a database of breaches affecting 500 or more individuals and the list reveals just how vulnerable these practices are to risk.

While liability will fall on the practices, it is easy to see how a chain of blame can ensue. A doctor’s office where a breach has happened might outsource management of their networks to an IT company that promises state of the art security features, and they, in turn, might contract their servers to a cloud hosting service. Technology has a long tail these days, and it’s hard to know where responsibility and blame begin and end.

Is your business ready for EHR?

Now is a good time to consider your insurance coverage when it comes to electronic health records and your liability. Many practices and facilities have upgraded and documented some of the problems they’ve experienced, and insurance brokers have had a chance to get caught up with the new and sometimes unusual coverage needs for clients in the healthcare industry.

Consider updating your coverage if you support healthcare facilities in some way. Many new regulations are in place, and all kinds of professional service providers should reconsider what their liability might be. From law and accounting firms that work directly with healthcare facilities to plumbers, electricians, and IT professionals who work on facility infrastructure and security, to doctors who practice at multiple facilities – so many people play a role in maintaining patient records and keeping them safe.

Contact your broker to talk about new issues with compliance and find out if there is additional coverage you should consider. If you find your risk is out of the ordinary or you can’t find coverage available on the commercial market, consider an enterprise risk captive as an alternative way to manage your risk.