How Distracted Driving can Lead to you Losing your Automobile Insurance

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  The Insurance Industry is heavily investing resources and time in an effort to raise awareness and educate the public on just how deadly this action can be.  Many non profit organizations and government agencies are participating as well.   The statistics on distracted driving are absolutely alarming from all accounts and have reached epidemic proportions.  According to the Claims Journal with over 40,000 deaths in the last two years and 4.57 million injuries. In contrast drunk driving is on the decline.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Incredulous as it may sound texting and driving is actually more insidious than drinking and driving as it is engrained into our work and our everyday life.  Further, there is no similar social stigma associated with this behavior as there is with drinking.  New research referenced above finds distracted driving is actually more dangerous due to the inherent danger of taking your eyes off the road.  It also is the equivalent of drinking 4 beers or alcoholic drinks due to the loss of concentration and focus.  Research has also shown that texting is becoming an addictive behavior.

It appears based on new legislative activities throughout the country that laws are becoming more intensely focused on imposing stricter penalties for distracted driving because both economic and societal costs for everyone are escalating and such behavior is increasing.

When drinking and driving awareness came about efforts were spearheaded by Mothers against Drunk Drivers. MADD still focuses on drinking and driving but has assisted the movement against distracted driving through teen activities and helping to raise awareness.  New groups have formed including Focus Driver: Advocates for Cell Free Driving and Teen 365 which follows the same principals as MADD, as well as other organizations. High schools across the county try to teach youth by adding the subject to the curriculum.  New slogans and billboards with catch phrases such as “assigning a designated texter while driving” are being promoted.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Safety Council are combining forces with advocates to campaign against distracted driving due to the growth of the issue.

Many states have enacting laws against distracted driving due to the hue and cry of concerned citizens and the victims of tragic accidents caused by distracted driving.  In 2009, 19 states had enacted law prohibiting texting and driving.  Now 41 states have enacted laws with an emphasis on cell phone usage and texting.

Cell phones were actually invented 45 years ago and the first call was made in the United States on April 3, 1973. Cell phone usage has grown by leaps and bounds beyond the inventor’s imagination I am sure.  As the devices became more popular accidents increased, but usage continued to grow as the technology improved the range and signal, available battery life was enhanced, cell phone design and audio capability for music increased, and parents began to purchase cell phones for teens in order to be able to reach them wherever they were at in effort to keep their children safe.

As evidenced by the growing body of of new laws throughout the country distracted driving is no longer limited to using a cell phone for texting as many may believe.  The law in the State of Washington specifically includes

  • eating while driving,
  • putting on makeup
  • or fixing your hair.

All are considered forms of distracted driving.  In essence it is any behavior that takes your eyes and your attention off the road.  States are also banning the singular act  of having your cell phone on while you are driving. Rhode Island is in the process of enacting laws which requires absolute hands free driving.

Even though it has been suggested public policy reasons do not allow insurers to just refuse to pay for injuries inflicted ty distracted drivers as innocent victim would be harmed and even more lives would be disrupted. So insurers have concentrated efforts to stop distracted driving through many avenues.  First they have increased the consequences for the behavior similar to the manner in which drinking and driving were approached. The first step following the criminalization of the behavior by law, was for insurance carriers to cancel your insurance if you lose your license due to an accident.  Virtually no insurer will insure someone who does not have a valid license.

Next is to make it more costly to engage in the behavior. There is no civic reason why insurers can’t raise your rates sky high or opt not to cover you,  a family member or a person who has permission to drive your car who then engages in distracted driving.

Additionally insurers are seeking alternate approaches.  Insurers now have immense amounts of data to predict risks and losses based on both historical comparison information related to drinking and driving   and data on distracted driving after the invention of the cell phone. The cell phone industry also has data which is useful to carriers and lawmakers.

Insurance carrier are using the available data and technology to introduce new ways to curb distracted driving.  Research has shown texting and driving increases in the late afternoon as workers start the voyage home. See Insurance Journal…  It is also at the peak time when teens are leaving school, attending extracurricular events, going to part time employment or meeting with friend.   As a result prevention campaigns are focusing on completing your texting and cell usage before getting on the road home from work or daily activites.

There are many thoughts and ideas on how to curb distracted driving in other ways.  The Claims Journal has polled drivers and found that incentives and discounts for good driving are more persuasive than negative fines and penalties.  The Claims Journal also indicates that insurers are supporting the use of data from telematics placed in vehicles which record the actions of the driver and identifies the cause of the accident.   Cell phone distributors have smart phone technology to prevent texting while driving and or receiving calls while driving, but have routinely installed it.  That industry is giving parents options and resources to prevent teens from texting or driving and receiving phone calls. Users also have the option to obtain an app with the same features.   The drawback is the driver may need to use the cell phone for an emergency, themselves, so the consumer control of the option can be necessary.  As a result these application are not mandatory. So insurers will still need to impose actions that deter distracted driving to protect their own profit margin but more importantly to protect the public and even the driver who is breaking the law.

If you assume that you or a family member has gotten two or more tickets for distracted driving in six months, you can anticipate that your insurer   rates will most likely go up and upon getting another ticket you might be cancelled as you have become a high risk driver.  You may be also be excluded on a combined policy for other household members.  If a teen is the offender you can anticipate a very high premium. You could possibly receive a discount if the high risk driver attends a defensive driving course and it could increase your chances to remain covered. The more tickets you get in a certain time frame based on your state law, the more points you accumulate on your driver’s license. Some states allow drivers to take the course in lieu of the points.  the points normally fall off your record in 3 years in most states but if you accumulate too many points your license will be suspended.  Each state differs as to the amount of points assessed for various aspects of driving.  The amount of points depends on what action your state considers a moving violation. You can still be ticketed if you are stopped at a traffic light.   You can be ticketed in some states if you are stopped alongside the road to take a call or text, if it causes an accident.  It could be a different number of points depending on if you are texting and driving, or just talking on the cell phone. It also depends on the age of the driver.  Many state have enhanced penalties for young drivers based on that states law. Be aware that insurance carriers usually check an insured driving record upon renewal .Once you are classified as high risk you will no longer be eligible for any safe driving discounts.

Next assume you or family member causes a wreck or accident due to distracted driving. . Minor accidents usually come off of your records after 7 seven years but the penalties and fines are generally much higher if an accident occurs.   You can be cancelled by your carrier or the carrier can elect not to renew your policy.   Additionally, if you injure someone or cause the death of someone you can be charged criminally and you might end up serving a lengthy jail sentences.

So stay safe out there on the road and take every precaution you can to protect yourself and others from becoming a victim of distracted driving.

Professional Liability Insurance for Doulas and other Health Care Providers

As the health care professions evolve and grow exponentially, so does the need for professional liability for new categories of health care providers. Health care providers encompasses a broad range of medical occupations ranging from doctors to doulas and includes nurses, therapists of all sorts, specialists in certain fields of medicine, naturopaths, osteopaths, paramedics and medical care transporters to name but a few.

Professional Liability Insurance For Doulas and healthcare providers is an essential part of their insurance package.

Professional liability in the health field is also known as medical malpractice.  The premise for doulas is pretty simple.  If a patient is injured in the course of treatment by doctors, nurses, doulas, or other health care providers, he or she may have liability for errors made by the provider during the course of treatment. They also can have liability for failing to take action when they should have.  It might sound straightforward and simple but proving liability is not simple at all. A litigant has to prove a number of factors based on the medical malpractice statutes in the state which has jurisdiction over the claim.  Various states use differing methods for establishing fault and determining liability, measuring percentage of fault, calculating damages and capping monies awarded as damages. So if you are forced to defend a claim against you it can result in large legal fees and monetary damages if you are found negligent.  Thus professional liability insurance is critical for all health care providers.

Why is that the case?   Professional Liability has been around for a very long time.  The first case in America was brought in 1794, five years after President George Washington was sworn in to office. (Kaiser Family Foundation)  The cause of action was also codified in 1799 for violations of public health and tort cases for private health care errors. Originally malpractice cases were generally against doctors only, usually surgeons.

Nurses were not regulated or licensed until 1938 when the State of New York enacted the first mandatory Nurse Practices Act.  Nursing was predominately occupied by females, who were seen merely as assistants and perhaps this factor influenced the reluctance to sue a nurse. Both criminal cases and malpractice cases against nurses were rarely brought until late 1960’s and early 1970’s.   After that bringing a medical malpractice suit rapidly evolved to include suing nurses, doctors other than surgeons, e.g. anesthesiologists and radiologists, as well as health care facilities and pharmaceutical companies.

Next medical malpractice was applied to dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors,pharmacists, naturopaths and complimentary alternative medicine (CAM), clinics, surgery centers and nursing homes, nurse practitioner and physician’s assistants.  Naturopaths are regulated by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and are recognized in approximately 20 states. These newer categories began to be included in the legal definition of a health care provider in many state laws and the Code of Federal Regulations.  This factor helped to expand the scope of malpractice. In many cases the person being sued was an employee of a medical facility or hospital and of course the hospital or facility had vicarious liability as the employer; and better assets and insurance to cover the claims which rendered them a better target for suits. So law suits were expanded to be brought against both the hospital and the medical care providers.

Eventually, professional liability was expanded to include paramedics and other para professionals who were either independent contractors or employees of another entity but not employees of the hospital or medical facility.  Paramedics often worked for a governmental entity such as a city or a fire district and the issue of government immunity was presented to try to avoid liability. That argument failed for the most part but an action may be more procedurally difficult when government entities are involved.

During the course of history of malpractice in the U.S, the theory of liability became entrenched as negligence on the part of the medical provider at fault. Presently to win a suit. The plaintiff must show:

1.  That there is a duty of care owed by the provider to the injured party,

2.  That there was a breach of that duty in the form of a misdiagnosis, improper care or neglect, or exposure to a dirty or non-sterile environment, by the health care provider.  The breach of duty is judged by the standard of care set for that particular occupation,

3. The plaintiff must also prove causation of the injury,

4.  The amount of damages incurred both currently and in the future for medical care.

So it seems that presently any occupation connected with the medical field can be liable for negligence provided that the patient can prove the four 4 elements above.  This standards puts every health care provider in the medical field at risk. As a result, all health care providers need professional liability insurance even if they are an employee of a hospital or medical facility.   The reason for this is

Two particularly significant lifetime events highlight the need for professional liability. Those are the beginning of life/birth and end of life/death. Historically physicians were sued frequently for defects to babies’ occurring during childbirth especially cerebral palsy.  Times have changed and those types of cases are less frequent.  Research and training has made the birthing process easier. Now all types of innovations are implemented during pregnancy and birthing including The Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative and Helping Babies Breath.  Little extras such as heated blankets and water assisted birth or use of labor tubs to ease the pain of childbirth are recognized as suitable for use in the delivery. Additionally, there is a belief that childbirth should take place in as natural setting.

One very popular example of a health care provider who is not a doctor is a midwife (doulas) who presides over the birth at the home of the parents or during most of labor until the actual delivery of the baby.  Usually the birth of a child is a joyful event but even with all the medical advances many unexpected things can go wrong at a birth. Doulas and/or midwives can be sued just as doctors can for their errors or omissions during birth.


At the opposite end of this spectrum are midwives called death doulas or end of life coaches.  Death Doula’s functions may include providing peace and comfort through emotional and spiritual support, assistance with preparation of forms, coordinate care by various health professionals and help plan the burial and transportation after passing as well as physically caring for the dying and rendering palliative care depending on the extent of their medical training including administration of prescribed medications.

This job is inherently more risky than a birth.  The end result is that the patient is going to leave this world and there is rarely a happy ending although doulas can help ensure a peaceful and tranquil passing.  Many family members are grief stricken and one of the stages they experience is anger.  The death doula may be the person they lash out at even though the doula provided as much care and comfort as possible.  While the patient may have been mentally ready and prepared for their death, it does not necessarily mean the loved ones left behind are.

So it is readily apparent that any health care provider can be sued for negligence regardless of the merits of the claim, the wisest choice is to have professional liability if you work in any of the medical fields and render actual physical care or give medical advice to any patient. Thus virtually all all health care providers need the protection of professional liability. Even if you are an employee of a hospital or other facility you need your own insurance as the employer’s liability policy may not be large enough


In addition to obtaining professional liability you need to consider several issues to determine what you need in a policy.

1.  How much should your limit.  Your insurance carrier may require it be at least a certain amount. Of the hospital that you are on staff have a set amount. You should revisit the amount at times to make sure you have a high enough limit to cover liability in the jurisdiction you practice in,

2. Do you want a policy that pays any legal expenses from the policy limits or outside the limits?  Legal expense may in some cases use up the limits of the policy leaving no funds or insufficient funds to pay the damage award. Inside the limits is generally cheaper.

3.  Whether to carry occurrence based or a claims-made liability policy may differ with the circumstance.  Returning to birth as an example, the negligence may not be apparent for many years to come while at death it is finite and there are limitations usually set by state statute to determine how long a plaintiff has to bring suit after the passing of a loved one. Claims made policies only covers claims made during the policy period while occurrence based covers claims where the injury that happened during the policy period but a claims is not filed until after the policy is expired.

4.  Do you or the insurance carrier have the right to consent to settle?  You should have your agent or attorney thoroughly explain this clause in your policy and the consequence of not settling.

5.  Do you want to have an arbitration clause in your policy?  Some carriers routinely include this settlement tactic in the policy.

There is really no easy way to select coverage but an independent insurance agent or your attorney can help you ensure you have adequate coverage.