Avoiding website claims that increase malpractice risk

Written by promotiondept

November 12, 2018

Avoiding website claims that increase malpractice risk

How a portrays itself to the public through its website may be critical to its success. tial clits gerally review firm websites wh evaluating and selecting a provider. Websites oft convey a tone that is more marketing– or salesorited.

How is the contt of a firm’s website relevant to professional liability? Wh the language used to describe the firm, its staff, and its s does not match up with the firm’s actual expertise or experice, the defse of a tial professional liability claim may be compromised. Consequtly, s should roach the developmt of their online presce with the same diligce and professionalism exercised with the delivery of their s.

Wh creating a website, a may use offtheshelf software with templates designed to streamline the developmt process and reduce cost. Such templates typically list a broad array of s and innumerable industries, which a firm should customize to its own practice. Or a may hire a marketing professional who may not understand the tial professional liability implications of statemts made on the firm’s website.

For the purposes of demonstration, this article uses theoretical statemts that could be found on a ’s website to idtify some practices to continue and others to reconsider wh creating or maintaining a website.

The following statemts could be interpreted as exaggerating the firm’s experice in certain practice areas:

Reconsider statemts that exaggerate your education or experice. Reexamine your website and make sure its statemts regarding industry and area of practice expertise and experice are currt and supported by the firm’s practice. The AICPA Professional Liability Insurance Program has expericed claims whereby a CPA’s selfcharacterization as an “expert” has be called into question and used against the CPA by plaintiff attorneys. In these claims, the plaintiff attorney argues that, if the CPA had the expertise described in the firm’s website, he or she would have idtified important or industry issues relevant to the gagemt. Plaintiff attorneys have used such language to add causes of action for misreprestation and fraud to their negligce claims.

More significantly, the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (AICPA Code) states that a CPA is in violation of the “Acts Discreditable Rule” (ET §1.400.090) if the CPA promotes or markets the CPA’s abilities to provide professional s or makes claims about the member’s experice or qualifications in a ner that is false, misleading, or deceptive. If a claim arises, a plaintiff’s attorney may cite this section in an attempt to discredit the CPA’s professionalism and credibility and allege a violation of the AICPA Code. In addition, y states have consumer protection statutes for professionals who have false or misleading advertising, imposing tial civil or criminal forcemt actions.

Consider listing the s and industries in which the firm regularly works. Be honest and focus on the firm’s strgths. Emphasize training and experice without “puffing.”

Consider using clit dorsemts or testimonials after obtaining the clit’s writt permission. Actual statemts made by currt or former clits demonstrate the value of the firm’s s and can be more persuasive than a self statemt by the CPA firm.

The following statemts use words that could be interpreted as implying promises or guarantees regarding the outcomes of s provided:

Reconsider words that imply an absolute, such as “all,” “every,” “any,” “always,” or “constant.” These words establish a clit’s expectation of the s to be provided. In addition, if a claim arises, a plaintiff attorney may contd that the CPA made a false or misleading statemt and failed to deliver the expected by the clit. Once again, in the evt of a professional liability claim, the clit’s attorney may allege this was a violation of the “Acts Discreditable Rule” and state consumer protection statutes.

Consider softing the language. Phrases such as “deavor to” or “our practice gerally includes” help to avoid the perception that the firm’s statemts constitute promises and guarantees.

The following statemts indicate, in overly broad terms, that the will provide operations oversight or monitoring of the clit’s business:

Reconsider statemts that hold the firm out as being solely responsible for the clit’s business. Be careful not to give the impression that the CPA or firm will assume responsibility beyond that for which it is contracted in the gagemt letter.

Consider proceeding with caution and using marketing messages to help age clit expectations. CPAs, especially those providing business process outsourcing s, may make decisions within the of the gagemt and are responsible for idtifying issues and providing relevant recommdations for clit consideration. CPAs typically advise the clit regarding the befits and drawbacks of various options but, as a geral matter, should emphasize that the clit is ultimately responsible for the success of its business.

The following statemts imply that the auditor or tax professional’s work can ince the clit’s success:

Reconsider statemts that promise that audit or tax work performed by the will positively affect a clit’s success or profitability. Clit perforce is based upon numerous variables, and it may be misleading to suggest that y s are directly correlated with clit success. In the evt of a professional liability claim, the clit’s attorney may assert that this represtation reflected a commitmt made to the clit that the firm was unable to fulfill.

Consider using clit testimonials to support how recommdations or s provided by the assisted them in achieving desired business results. These declarations can describe the impact of s and prove beficial.

Reconsider statemts that may be construed as professional advice on the website. s provide advice based upon clitspecific facts and assumptions.

Consider designating individuals to review and update website information oft, suring that all contt remains currt, accurate, and relevant. This protocol also helps with gine optimization.

Consider lying the concepts discussed here to other marketing materials and proposals, including those in print, social media, blogs, and any other format.

Consider remembering that in the evt of a professional liability claim, the defse of the may be more difficult if the CPA did not deliver on the promises made in a website statemt.

Web presce among s

Deborah K. Rood (deborah.rood@cna.com) is a risk control director at CNA.

Contintal Casualty Co., one of the CNA insurance companies, is the underwriter of the AICPA Professional Liability Insurance Program. Aon Insurance s, the National Program Administrator for the AICPA Professional Liability Program, is available at 800-221-3023 or visit cpai.com.

This article provides information, rather than advice or opinion. It is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge as of the article date. This article should not be viewed as a substitute for recommdations of a retained professional. Such consultation is recommded in lying this material in any particular factual situations.

Examples are for illustrative purposes only and not intded to establish any standards of care, serve as legal advice, or acknowledge any giv factual situation is covered under any CNA insurance policy. The relevant insurance policy provides actual terms, coverages, amounts, conditions, and exclusions for an insured. All products and s may not be available in all states and may be subject to change without notice.


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