Professional Liability Law
What is Professional Liability Law?
Professional liability law governs legal proceedings brought by patients and clients who have suffered as a result of the negligent actions of a professional. These cases are usually filed in the state where the defendant lives or does business. General principles of negligence law apply, as well as statutory provisions that establish matters such as the amount of time the plaintiff has to file suit after discovering the professional’s mistake. A number of states place limits on the amount of damages that can be recovered in a professional liability case, and may require claims to be submitted to a review panel before the matter can be heard in court.
Types of Professional Liability Claims
Theoretically, a negligence claim can be brought against any type of professional whose careless actions have harmed the plaintiff. But due to the difficulty and expense of pursuing a civil lawsuit, most claims are based on significant financial losses or physical harm to the plaintiff. Thus, defendants usually include surgeons and other medical providers, attorneys, engineers, architects, CPAs, securities brokers and other financial advisors, real estate agents, tax professionals, and so forth. Members of all these professions can commit errors and omissions, the results of which may be irreversible.
Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care
The law takes into account the fact that no one is perfect. Mistakes happen, and not every momentary lapse of judgment or skill will give rise to liability for an otherwise competent professional. On the other hand, the law does not tolerate flippant handling of critically important matters, and if an avoidable mistake is made, the professional (or the professional’s insurance company) will be required to pay for the resulting damages. The test is whether, in light of the surrounding circumstances, the conduct fell below the reasonable standard of care for service providers in that field.
The reasonable care test is a flexible standard, and the surrounding circumstances are often determinative. Consider the example of a lawyer who forgot to serve a trial witness with a subpoena (a legal document requiring the witnesses to appear). The witness does not show up at the trial to testify on behalf of the lawyer’s client, and because the witness was not under subpoena, the judge denies a continuance request. The client ends up losing the case.
Assume the lawyer had no reason to believe the witness would not show up. Furthermore, the witness had very little to say, and the testimony likely would not have made a difference in the outcome. Under these facts, forgetting to serve the subpoena might be construed as a reasonable mistake. But now assume the lawyer knew the witness did not want to appear at the trial due to hostile feelings toward the client. The witness had crucial information, and the client probably would have won the trial had the jury heard the witness testify. Under these facts, the lawyer’s oversight was unreasonable, and the client may have a professional liability claim against the lawyer.
Expert Evaluations, Consulting, and Testimony
Experts play an important role in professional liability cases. Proving fault can be a difficult task, primarily due to the complexity of the subject matter. Especially in cases involving medical mistakes, the plaintiff must be able to educate the jury on complicated practices and procedures. Each person in the jury must come to understand what the defendant was trying to accomplish, how things went wrong, and what it all means for the plaintiff – now, and in the future.
To assist with this undertaking, plaintiffs in professional liability cases hire expert witnesses familiar with the defendant’s line of work. For example, in a medical case involving errors committed during childbirth, the plaintiff would hire another obstetrician who could explain, in plain language, how the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care. Experts hired for this purpose are skilled at using models, graphs, and other exhibits to clarify esoteric concepts for their audience.
During the course of litigation, an expert will be called upon to deliver his or her opinions regarding the case on several occasions. First, the plaintiff will supply the expert with all the documents, photographs, interview transcripts, court pleadings, and other evidence from the case, and ask the expert to form an opinion with respect the defendant’s conduct. The expert will give the opinion in the form of a written report. Next, the expert will be asked to attend a deposition, during which the defendant’s lawyers will ask questions about the expert’s conclusions. Finally, experts may be called to testify at trial and once again explain their findings, this time to the jury.
Seeking Help from a Professional Liability Attorney
Falling victim to the negligence of a professional can leave you wondering who to trust. At a time like this, you need help from an attorney with a winning track record in the field of professional liability law. To learn if compensation is available for the harm you suffered, contact an attorney today.
Articles on HG.org Related to Professional Liability Law
- Nursing License Suspended Due to Disciplinary Action: Renewal with Legal AssistanceWhen a professional must go through a disciplinary meeting because an issue has arisen that causes his or her license suspension, he or she may require months of fighting this for the license renewal. It is important to understand how to progress through these processes and what this means for the nurse.
- Standard Nursing Obligations for CareNurses are held to a higher standard than other professionals because they deal with patients on a constant basis, and their actions could lead to injury or death to someone if they are not careful. These obligations that nurses should carry out affect the health and wellbeing of many different individuals each day.
- Ethical Standards of the ProfessionalProfessionals must follow a code of ethics that applies to how the client or customer is treated to how marketing advertises services, and these principles are what the individual seeks to emulate in daily life. However, if ethical standards are not adhered to, the professional could find himself or herself in danger of license suspension or revocation.
- Reducing Litigation by Providing Client SatisfactionFor professionals that owe their clients a duty of service, it is best to ensure client satisfaction is achieved. By providing this, these individuals are able to usually reduce possible litigation and prevent lawsuits from arising constantly with persons that hire them.
- Ethics Codes for PoliceMost police officers enter the force highly motivated and enthusiastic with a true desire to serve the public.
- What To Expect from Your Attorney and What Your Attorney Expects from YouWhether you hire an attorney to negotiate a contract for your business, represent you during a contentious divorce or to file a malpractice action against your physician, you must be able to trust your lawyer and he you.
- What are the Consequences if the Lawyer Does Not Deliver the “Best” Results for His Clients?The ethical responsibilities of a lawyer are to ensure the best possible results may be delivered to his or her clients. This means researching the matter, creating the best strategy for the court room, negotiating for the best benefits of the person with opposing counsel and a variety of other items.
- Chief Financial Officers Can Be Held LiableCFO and corporate accountants must be aware that the improprieties of their superiors could lead to their own personal liabilities. This is because Courts have found that corporate officers can breach their fiduciary duties to a company if they are involved in conduct that benefited their superior officers by approving or concealing improper expense reimbursements.
- Construction Disputes: When Is It Time to Litigate?When a dispute over payment or performance interferes with a construction project or the use of a piece of real estate, all parties involved must critically assess their options with regard to negotiating a settlement or protecting their interests at trial.
- Are Law Firms Liable when Their Computers Are Hacked?Security breaches continue to be a serious threat to businesses and private citizens. When law firm computers are hacked, sensitive client information may be leaked to their detriment. Whether the law firm is liable for such breaches depend on a number of factors.
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State Rules of Attorney Professional Conduct
Professional Liability Law - US
- ABA - Center for Professional Responsibility
Since 1978, the Center has provided national leadership and vision in developing and interpreting standards and scholarly resources in legal and judicial ethics, professional regulation, professionalism and client protection.
- ABA - Lawyers’ Professional Liability Consortium (LPLC)
The Committee's Lawyers’ Professional Liability Consortium (LPLC) provides a place where practicing lawyers, insurance professionals, academics and risk managers meet to exchange views, share knowledge and learn the latest information about the law of lawyering.
- ABA - Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS)
Welcome to the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS)—the source of knowledge and leadership on trial practice and critical issues of justice that involve tort and insurance law.
- DOJ - Office of Professional Responsibility
- Liability Insurance - Wikipedia
Liability insurance is a part of the general insurance system of risk financing to protect the purchaser (the "insured") from the risks of liabilities imposed by lawsuits and similar claims.