Protection plans that shield physicians’ financial assets from an excess malpractice verdict are worth the money
This is in response to the pro-con debate on asset protection (“Afraid of Getting Sued and Losing Everything? Well, Just Hide Your Money! Or Not!” February ACEP Now).
First of all, thanks to Drs. Frank and Segan for an interesting pro-con feature on a subject that is on almost every ED physician’s mind to some degree.
I would like to respond to Dr. Frank’s viewpoint. I have known a physician who lost his house and many of his assets due to an excess malpractice verdict. He was an obstetrician, and they historically have huge liability risks, but this did ruin him financially and emotionally, not to mention what this did to his family.
Second, I think Dr. Frank makes the case for good asset protection. He states (and I summarize) that most plaintiff attorneys will not be interested in going after the personal assets of a physician because (as in example 1, where the verdict was $5 million and the physician had $1 million in coverage) “the chances of getting $4 million (or anything close to that) from most physicians are slim to none.” What I take from this is that the chances are truly “slim to none” of taking some or all of the physician’s assets if the physician has engaged in an effective, reasonable asset-protection plan. I bet the plaintiff attorney would not be so merciful if, as with physician B in Dr. Segan’s example, the physician had his assets in unprotected, easily confiscatable forms.
Third, one issue that is not addressed by Dr. Frank is the dread and anxiety one faces when served with those awful papers. The amount of anxiety and stress that accompany a lawsuit is underappreciated and often makes physicians question the career they chose. Even with the fact that most physicians prevail, there is always the chance (even with excellent medical care) that you will be the unlucky one who has a jury who forgets the facts and sides with the perceived victim.
Having a good asset-protection plan, which may be expensive, is worth the money. Most things of value are, even if it is to protect you from the chance, albeit small, that you are the one who has “had [your] assets taken away by an excess verdict.” The peace of mind that comes from protection against the sometimes illogical and unjust whims of the legal system is something that most physicians would find worth having.
Dr. Frank is correct; asset protection costs money and can be expensive, especially if done well. However, for most physicians, it is money well spent.
—Stephen F. Spontak, MD, ABEM
Homer Glen, Ill.