You have devoted your professional life to helping others.  All the while you tried to protect yourself if the unfortunate situation arose where you found yourself being sued.  You planned for this occasion by purchasing and maintaining professional liability insurance.

What happens if you have been sued or there is a threat of a lawsuit and you turn the matter over to your insurance company?  In most cases, the insurance company hires a lawyer to defend you and has agreed to pay that lawyer.  The retained lawyer, however, serves two masters – you and the insurance company that is paying for that lawyer.  Unfortunately, there may be limitations on what that lawyer can do for you.  In Ohio, the attorney who is hired by an insurance company is required to forward a “Statement of Insured Client’s Rights.”  The Statement informs the insured that, among other things, the insurance company can reasonably control the defense of the lawsuit and set out guidelines governing how lawyers are to defend the case and how the lawyer is to proceed. Perhaps more important, the statement and your insurance policy both state that the insurance company is obligated to defend you only up to the limits of coverage.  If the potential claim exceeds the amount of coverage that is available, you face the risk of personal exposure.

Insurance may not cover all of the claims.  For example, there may not be enough insurance to cover the potential loss.   Many policies reduce the amount available to settle a claim by the attorney fees and expenses that are incurred by the very lawyers hired by the insurance company.  It is very possible, therefore, that the insurance you purchased will be completely exhausted by defense costs, leaving you without coverage.

Your insurance company may be unwilling to settle when it should.  It may want to force a case to trial even when it is not in your best interest but, instead, serves its own purpose.  There could be claims asserted that are not considered “covered” by your insurance policy which can leave you personally exposed.

Most of my 25-year career has been devoted to the representation of professionals who sometimes fall in to the crosshairs of their former clients.  Every professional should consider hiring his or her own advocate experienced with how insurance companies defend their insureds and the risks associated with professional liability litigation.

You have advocated for your client, whether as a lawyer, accountant, financial advisor or physician.  Do the same for yourself when you become the client. Retain an attorney who has the knowledge to understand insurance policies, the issues in your case, and can act as your advocate when you need it most.