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Report Early, Report Often

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Report Court and Licensing Board Matters to Your Professional Liability Insurance Carrier Immediately

As many social workers understand from experience, it is common to be subpoenaed to provide evidence or testimony related to client records, or to receive complaints against your social work license that must be addressed with your State Licensing Board.

What some social workers have not learned until too late, however, is that when you receive a court document, be it a subpoena, deposition notice, summons, or a licensing board matter, you owe it to yourself and your clients to be proactive. You should report the matter to your professional liability insurance carrier immediately, the same day you receive it, even if you’re not certain whether it will result in need for legal action and representation or a claim. Why? When you call your professional liability carrier immediately to report a matter, you:

  1. Activate your policy so that it will cover you in case you need it. Court and licensing board consideration processes can take months, even years. Most policies stipulate that a court request or board inquiry must be reported to the professional liability carrier immediately. If you wait until there is a determination, and after the required reporting period has passed, it is possible you could be denied legal representation and/or claims payment under your policy.
  2. Ensure that you will receive timely legal representation to assist you. When you call, it sets the wheels in motion. It takes time to process a claim and to provide all the necessary information and paperwork. If you wait too long to report, your carrier might not have time to find and assign appropriate legal counsel in time to represent you when you need it. The policy does not cover expenses of attorneys not designated by the carrier on your behalf.
  3. Talk confidentially with someone who understands and can support you. Even if it’s not your first time, court and licensing board-related matters can be stressful and require talking through. When you call your professional liability insurance carrier to report a matter, you not only get to talk with someone who is extremely knowledgeable and understanding, the information you share is privileged and confidential and cannot be used against you in a court of law. Unfortunately, that is just not the case for information you share or discuss with friends, family members, and colleagues.

Just remember, “Report early, report often.”

The NASW-Endorsed Professional Liability Insurance Program was enhanced to include subpoena coverage and increased licensing board defense limits ($35,000 limits automatically – with up to $100,000 limits available) in the policy. However, not all professional liability policies include subpoena protection or this level of license defense coverage. If you do not have the NASW-Endorsed policy, you should check your own policy very carefully to find out if you are covered for subpoena legal fees defense. If you are not covered, you are at risk, and you must pay for subpoena legal defense. Our subpoena legal defense claims experience shows that if your policy lacks this coverage, you will pay $3,000 to $5,000 in legal defense fees for each subpoena that you receive.

The NASW-Endorsed Program offers a risk management helpline to help you get started with the process of reporting a court or licensing board matter, and covers costs for legal representation and litigation which are not deducted from your policy limits, providing you with the full limits of your policy to cover the cost of settlements and damages, if necessary.

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed in the Tip of the Month, or wish we would address a previous Tip in more detail? We welcome your ideas! Please email suggestions to asi@naswasi.org (include “Tip Idea” in the email title). A new topic will be profiled each month.

Published January 2014

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