In most instances, a general or commercial general liability policy will protect a business against damage or injury their actions may cause to others. However, this type policy is designed to handle loss associated with fairly generic and low-risk activities. Examples are customers who cut their hands on a sharp edge of an office's reception desk or a customer who is hurt when she collides with a clerk who is stocking a shelf. Much more is at stake with professional activities such as the following:
- Expert Status–Persons who need professional liability coverage are those whom the general public depend upon as experts. They provide assistance with special issues such as personal health, expensive business transactions, or personal crises. Many of these situations also involve a high-level of emotion. When something goes wrong, it is much more likely that a client will pursue "justice" through the courts.
- Reputation–Any claim a client makes against a professional involves that individual's reputation. In many instances, paying a claim bears the stigma of admitting to a mistake. The professional may suffer from a lowered status and could face sanctions from related professional associations or regulatory authorities. Further, many professionals are proud of their standing and their abilities; admitting being wrong is usually fiercely resisted.
- Defense Costs–Defending against claims of professional error or incompetence is usually very expensive and time-consuming. Trials will generally involve expert testimony and technical arguments and the likelihood of resolving issues quickly (particularly via a settlement) is extremely low.
- Identifying A Loss–The timing between when a loss occurs and when a claim or suit is filed can be a mystery. A professional may find out she's being sued today for something that happened ten years ago. The potential for a huge time gap before a loss arises makes professional liability a very difficult type of business to underwrite and to price.