Professional Liability & the Claims-Made Policy

Occupations or business practices involving specialized care or advice often need professional liability insurance. Typical business classifications that need this coverage would be notary publics, real estate agents or managers, attorneys, doctors and consultants. The typical commercial general liability policy will only respond to bodily injury, property damage, personal injury or advertising injury claim.

The professional liability policy often is written on a claims-made form. The claims-made form requires the claim to be reported during the policy period, and the incident causing the claim must have occurred after the retro date for a claim to be covered. A retro date is a date prior to the start of the claims-made policy. The retro date could be years prior to the start date of the policy based on the underwriter’s discretion, after considering the applicants past exposures and loss history.
By comparison, the typical occurrence-based policy used in most commercial policies responds to claims that occur during the policy period, regardless of when reported subject to the statutes of limitations. The occurrence-based policy handles when the claim happens, and the claims-made policy considers when the claim is reported. In some cases, it is possible to purchase a claims-made policy with full prior acts coverage that essentially does away with a retro date. Coverage classes for this option are limited, and again, depend on the underwriter’s discretion.

When canceling an existing claims-made policy, it is usually advisable to purchase and extended reporting period. This is commonly referred to as tail coverage. Various lengths of time are available. Tail coverage extends the claim reporting period under the claims-made policy to cover claims that have occurred during the coverage period, and not yet reported by the cancellation date.
While most occurrence-based policies are somewhat similar, claims-made policies are usually specific to each company issuing the policy. The insurance agent must d o a careful review of these differences to determine applicability to a particular operation.