One of the first things you should do as a new massage practitioner is purchase liability insurance.
Many massage therapists are required — by their state governing board, employer or landlord — to possess liability insurance in order to practice. This insurance is a form of risk management that ensures you are relieved from the financial responsibility of a potential loss.
Having this coverage could protect your career, and carrying liability insurance will transfer the
risk of loss to your insurance provider. You can rest easy knowing that experts will handle any claims.
Accidents are unavoidable in any industry — even the massage field. The average cost of a
trip-and-fall accident, including legal fees and medical bills, is $46,297, according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit that promotes health and safety in the U.S.
For all massage therapists, getting such coverage can be considered a step not only toward greater financial protection, but also toward increased professionalism.
Here, we cover the main reasons a massage therapist should carry massage liability insurance, along with basic facts about what such coverage tends to entail and a some of the most common reasons clients bring lawsuits against massage therapists.
Why Clients Sue
The kind of coverage massage therapists receive from liability insurance is a good indicator of
types of lawsuits practitioners might face. Most massage liability insurance programs include coverage for three kinds of legal claims: general liability claims, professional liability claims and product liability claims.
General liability coverage applies to instances where a client may sue a massage therapist due to
an accident that occurred on practice premises, such as tripping on a doormat and ending up with a chipped tooth.
“An example of general liability would be when someone gets hurts, but it’s unrelated to the massage, such as a slip and fall or a fire that happens with the client on the premises,” explained J. Kevin McCarthy, managing director of MASSAGE Magazine Insurance Plus.
Professional liability coverage, also known as malpractice insurance, applies to instances where a client may sue a massage therapist due to damages or injury incurred during the course of a session. Reasons cited in malpractice lawsuits basically boil down to misconduct or lack of ordinary skill.
“In other words, if during the course of a treatment, a massage therapist does something that injures the client, that would fall under malpractice liability,” McCarthy said.
Product liability coverage applies to instances where a client may sue a massage therapist due to damage or injury resulting from use of a product, such as a massage lubricant that causes an allergic reaction or a faulty table that crashes to the ground in the middle of a massage.
When Risk Rises
Any legal claim from a client is tough to imagine, whether it be for an accident that took place on a massage practice’s premises or because of some kind of harm done during the massage or due to a product used in the session room. However, even though these claims appear to be fairly few, they can and do occur. Taking a gamble that no client will ever sue, the practitioner who chooses to forgo liability insurance faces great risk.
“Massage therapists are leaving themselves open to significant financial risk if they don’t
insure,” McCarthy said. “If they were to get sued, and there was a judgment against them, it could financially ruin their practice and also invade their personal finances as well.”
Besides financial losses that can occur when an uninsured massage therapist gets sued, another risk of skipping liability insurance is what McCarthy calls the “aggravation factor.” Without liability insurance, the individual massage therapist is responsible for managing the complicated legal process associated with a lawsuit.
“If I’m sued, and I have insurance, I’m going to report it to the insurance company, and they’re going to take over investigating that claim, so it relieves me of the burden of having to take responsibility for handling that,” McCarthy said.
“Without insurance, you don’t have the insurance company as a partner to help you through the legal process and to take the financial responsibility of paying the claim if it’s a legitimate claim,” he said.
A third risk massage therapists may face if they choose not to purchase liability insurance is potential for a perceived lack of professionalism in the eyes of prospective clients and employers.
“Being a massage therapist often means running a small business — and massage clients
want to see proof that their therapist is taking that responsibility seriously,” explained MASSAGE Magazine CEO Nick Doyle.
“Having a professional liability policy and being able to prove it demonstrates a level of professionalism and credibility that clients will find reassuring,” he added “It means the therapist is prepared and ready to take care of more than just their health in the event that something unplanned happens.”
This public perception is subtler than the financial risk and aggravation factor associated with forgoing insurance, but it remains an important point.
“I think having liability insurance shows a greater sense of credibility, in that the licensed
massage therapist has taken the appropriate business steps to protect their practice,” McCarthy said, “and to ensure the consumer will be taken care of in the unlikely event of a mishap.”
Understand How You are Covered
When you purchase liability insurance, it’s necessary to know what kind of protection you’re purchasing and what’s covered under the policy. This can help massage therapists better understand the value of investing in liability insurance.
“First and foremost, it is going to cover what is needed to provide assistance to the
injured party, such as medical bills,” explained MASSAGE Magazine Insurance Plus Agent on Record James Naismith. Next, he added, there are legal considerations.
“While most claims do not go to court, if they were it is the right and duty of the risk carrier to defend any claim or lawsuit brought within the U.S. seeking restitution from our insureds, which are payable under the terms of our policy, even if the claim and lawsuit are groundless, false or fraudulent,” Naismith explained.
“It is unfortunate that in today’s society there are individuals who look for any excuse to sue someone,” he added. “Luckily, some liability policies keep you safe even in such distasteful instances.”
For example, many massage liability programs will cover up to $2 million per legal claim, and then there will be a larger dollar amount assigned to cover multiple claims made within a one-year period, referred to as annual aggregate coverage. This is why it’s key that you determine if a policy is shared aggregate or individual aggregate. Both types exist in the massage industry, and they vary greatly from one another.
“Shared aggregates, also known as limits, often look more appealing to the general practitioner because there is a bigger dollar amount displayed and can leave the impression that there is more coverage included, which is not necessarily the case,” Naismith explained. “The aggregate is the limit of how much money can be paid out on an annual basis regardless of how many claims are filed.”
So, how do shared limits vs. individual limits differ? Let’s say Company A has a shared aggregate of $10 million and Company B has an individual aggregate of $3 million. Whenever someone buys a policy from Company A, they aren’t getting their own limit of $10 million but are sharing that limit with everyone else who bought a policy from Company A.
Throughout the year, other policy holders are filing claims and tapping into that $10 million limit. If you are filing a claim at the end of the year, there is a possibility that the $10 million will be gone due to those other claims, and Company A won’t have any money left to pay your claim.
With Company B, when someone buys a policy only the claims they file can tap into the $3
million limit. It doesn’t matter how many incidents occur with the other policy holders, that $3 million is set aside for you and you alone. As you can see, an individual limit is the safer bet.
Next, find out if your policy is occurrence form or claims made. “An occurrence form policy is certainly the preferred form of coverage for professional and general liability, and for good reason,” Naismith said. “With a claims made policy, when your coverage expires, so does your ability to file claims.”
People are still able to file suit with you long after an incident occurs, so why wouldn’t your insurance policy mirror that?
“Some insurance providers only offer occurrence form policies, meaning that the company will continue to honor claims filed after your coverage has expired, as long as the incident occurred during your policy period, giving you peace of mind even after you stop practicing,” Naismith said.
In addition to understanding the type of coverage a policy offers, it’s also important to find out exactly what is covered. It’s vital that you choose an insurance policy that will grow with you — so that if you add modalities to your practice you will have continued coverage. Look for a policy that covers additional services like yoga, massage and esthetician services all at once to save money if you expand your offerings.
Get Greater Coverage
Several massage liability insurance programs not only offer protection against client legal claims, but also offer added coverage for other issues massage therapists may face, such as lost or stolen property, rental damage and identity theft.
“One type of claim we see a lot of is property coverage,” McCarthy said. “If some property used in massage practice — a massage table or chair, or a laptop or cell phone used in the context of the business — gets stolen, there’s coverage for that.”
Coverage for damage to rental premises is another form of protection that may be included with liability insurance. For example, if a massage therapist is burning a candle in a rented session room and that candle gets knocked over and starts a fire, damage to the rental premises would be covered.
The identity theft protection offered by certain insurance programs is not related to the practice of massage, but is provided to reimburse massage therapists for expenses associated with cleaning up their credit if an identity theft occurs.
Insuring Students and Teachers
Massage schools tend to carry their own liability insurance policies, but this does not mean students and instructors at these schools are safe from potential lawsuits. The rule to remember is anyone who practices massage may be liable when sued, so massage students and teachers need protection, too.
“The school will have a policy, but the students and instructors are not necessarily covered by that program,” McCarthy said, “so they could be left out in the cold in the case of a lawsuit.”
Most massage students practice within school clinics and out in their community, whereas massage instructors may perform demonstrations, participate in community massage events and also practice on their own outside the school setting. Therefore, the need for liability insurance is present.
Better Safe …
It is clear that numerous situations could occur in which a massage therapist would benefit from coverage provided by liability insurance.
Comparing the fairly low annual fees associated with most massage liability programs to the massive amount of coverage these policies provide, it appears the old saying, better safe than sorry, certainly applies.
Brandi Vesco is an avid bodywork client and full-time journalist based in Reno, Nevada. She is a regular contributor to MASSAGE Magazine and massagemag.com.
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