Issue: September 2013
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Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation Services and Liability Risks

Introduction

Liability Issues for Physical Therapists

Over 185,000 physical therapists work in the United States, and projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that this number is likely to grow by 39 percent by 2020, due in part to an aging population.

 
Physical therapists, like all healthcare providers, face liability risks in providing professional services to patients. Physical therapists increasingly work autonomously. Medical error avoidance is of significant importance to public safety, and to public perceptions of the profession.
 
Attorneys, physicians, physical therapists, insurers, employers and others must be aware of the legal risks and liability issues that may arise in connection with physical therapy services.

The Perspectives: Improve Your Strategy

Attorneys:

What proof is needed to demonstrate malpractice by a physical therapist? And, what is a potential strategy for the attorney to employ?

Physicians:

How can liability for medical malpractice be avoided for an injury involving physical therapy? And, what is a potential strategy for the physical therapist to employ?

Insurers:

Can a payout under a medical malpractice liability policy be avoided by proof that the physical therapy provider was not negligent or there was no coverage for the physical therapy injury? And, what is a potential strategy for the insurer to employ? 

Employers:

Can an employer be subject to liability for an injury related to physical therapy? And, what is a potential strategy for the employer to use?


Practice the Technique: Checklists

Attorneys:

Check this list of facts and circumstances tending to show a provider’s liability for malpractice or negligence for a physical therapy injury.

Physicians:

A physical therapist or other health care provider should review the items on this list when defending against claims of malpractice or negligence involving injuries related to physical therapy.

Insurers:

The insurer should check these “red flags” and inconsistencies when investigating a claim of an injury involving physical therapy.

Employers:

Use this checklist to determine if the employee’s physical therapy injury is “work related” and occurred “in the course of the employment.”

Expert Analysis

What Common Pitfalls May Expose a Physical Therapist to Legal Liability? 

Nancy T. White, PT, DPT, OCS

How Can a Physical Therapist Avoid Common Mistakes When Responding to a P.T. Board Investigation?

Amy R. Cotton, MSPT, JD

Litigation

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Arbitration or mediation may be required by contract or statute, mandated by the court or, in some circumstances, may be the appropriate method for a negotiated resolution.


Reasons to Reach Settlement

The following are reasons why the attorney, physician, physical therapist, insurer, or employer would want to reach settlement, and not take the action to trial.


Reasons to Go to Trial

The following are reasons why the attorney, physician, physical therapist, insurer, or employer would want to take the action to trial.


Jury Awards and Settlements

How much have juries awarded and what settlements have been reached recently in medical malpractice cases involving physical therapists?



Medical Examples

Physical Therapy Treatment

This section provides detailed medical information on the practice and goals of physical therapy, the types of therapy treatments used, the timing of that treatment, specific injury treatment, the potential for surgery if physical therapy is unsuccessful, the licensure of physical therapists, and a patient’s prognosis and ability to work after receiving physical therapy. 



Law and Medicine Resources

Law and Medicine Resources

A listing of law and medical references for further information on physical therapist malpractice. 


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Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation Services and Liability Risks

Table of Contents
Introduction

Expert Analysis
   Nancy T. White, PT, DPT, OCS
   Amy R. Cotton, MSPT, JD

The Perspectives: Improve Your Strategy
   Attorneys
   Physicians and Physical Therapists
   Insurers
   Employers and Risk Managers

Practice the Technique: Checklists
   Attorney Checklist
   Physician or Physical Therapist Checklist
   Insurer Checklist
   Employer Checklist

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Reasons to Reach Settlement

Reasons to Go to Trial

Jury Awards and Settlements

Physical Therapy Treatment

Law and Medicine Resources