Check liability for weight loss products

October 10, 2011

Understand legal liability in selling weight loss products.

Q: I'm thinking of selling weight loss products as an ancillary service in my practice. What is my legal liability exposure in selling these products, and will my insurance cover it?

A: Nutritional and dietary supplements often are described as "nutraceuticals"-a catch-all term for foods and drinks, such as dietary or weigh loss supplements, herbal products, vitamins, and other products, that claim health, wellness and medical benefits.

The usual target of any product liability litigation is the manufacturer of the product. Practices can seek protection from the manufacturer's general liability insurer by requesting a "vendor's endorsement" before selling the product. Having a vendor´s endorsement can provide added confidence that you will be able to distribute the product without fear of having a claim that will adversely affect your general liability coverage or premiums.

If you make any modifications to the product or make claims beyond those made by the manufacturer regarding the effectiveness and safety of the product, be sure to notify your insurer, because the potential legal liability exposure is heightened under these scenarios.

Be aware also that you could be sued for professional negligence regarding the suitability of dietary and nutritional supplements for a patient. Examine the ingredients, advertising, warning labels, and product test results on each product before making it available for sale in your practice.

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Answers to our readers' questions were provided by John W. Miller II, principal of Sterling Risk Advisors in Marietta, Georgia, and Lawrence B. Keller, CFP, CLU, ChFC, founder of Physician Financial Services, Woodbury, New York. Send your money management questions to medec@advanstar.com