Can a Physical Therapist Be Sued for Malpractice?
If you’ve lived enough years on this earth or ever had an accident, you’ve likely gone through a program of physical therapy. Physical therapists play a crucial role in helping us recover from an accident or surgery, or deal with an ongoing, chronic condition. They help us regain strength and function so that we can return to our everyday lives with less pain.
Physical therapists are not perfect. A few might even be unskilled or insufficiently diligent. If you suffer an injury during a physical therapy session, it could be the result of negligence and grounds for a medical malpractice claim. The elderly, including nursing home residents, are especially vulnerable as they have a weaker bone structure and are more susceptible to fractures and dislocations. One study found that the most severe injuries reported in medical malpractice claims occurred in nursing homes.
A Rise in Cases
A summary of cases appearing in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) for 2010 indicated there were 1,014 malpractice claims made against physical therapists over the previous 20 years. During that same period of time, doctors had 260,633 cases brought against them. While the number of physical therapist cases may seem tiny when compared to cases against physicians, the data in the summary showed that a steady rise in malpractice claims for physical therapists had been happening since the early 1990s.
This rise may be related to the increased autonomy of physical therapists, who often practice without working under the direct supervision of a doctor. Because of this factor, a physical therapist needs the critical skills of screening the patient and providing a differential diagnosis (that is, differentiating between two or more conditions that share similar symptoms) in order to prescribe and carry out the correct therapy regimen for an individual patient.
Improper Treatment of Patients
In physical therapy cases reviewed from 1991 through 2004, 77 percent of medical malpractice cases involved treatment-related situations. The five most frequently-cited categories for claims were:
- Not supervising patients during exercises (15 percent): One physical therapist failed to directly supervise a patient while he was in a pool. Despite wearing a life jacket, the patient was found fully submerged and now lives in an assisted living facility.
- Injuring the patient while moving them therapeutically (11 percent): A patient suffered a ruptured disc because of improper spinal thrusts during therapy.
- Using improper technique, including dropping the patient or employing nonstandard movements or situations (11 percent): A patient died because a physical therapy assistant inappropriately modified a therapy regimen.
- Injuring the patient with hot packs or thermotherapy (10 percent): One patient suffered a severe burn and scarring from a hot pack treatment applied by a physical therapist.
- Injuring the patient during a stretching exercise, such as overextending limbs or joints (7 percent).
Other problematic situations that can be indicative of negligence and cause for a physical therapy medical malpractice suit are:
- Not heeding the patient’s complaints of pain: One case of overly-aggressive treatment by the physical therapist of a patient with a history of knee problems and surgeries cited not heeding the patient’s protestations of pain.
- Not modifying a treatment plan according to the patient’s physical needs or limitations.
- Not teaching patients how to use equipment properly.
- Not repairing equipment, so that patients use broken equipment.
- Not informing patients of the risks of physical therapy.
- Sexual assault.
Factors in Bringing a Medical Malpractice Case Against a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists must be licensed to practice in South Carolina and can be held liable for medical malpractice. All medical malpractice cases hinge on a number of elements, regardless of the medical professional involved. You must prove that:
- There was a therapeutic relationship between the medical professional and the patient.
- The medical professional breached the standard of care (provided care that did not measure up to what a similarly trained and experienced medical professional would have provided in the same situation in the specific geographical area).
- This breach of care caused harm to the patient.
- There was quantifiable, measurable harm or damages suffered by the patient. Generally, damages can include the cost of care needed to remedy the harm done by the medical professional accused of medical malpractice.
Contact Our Experienced Physical Therapy Malpractice Attorneys
When someone you love has been hurt, it can feel like nothing will ever be right or fair again. When this happens, the South Carolina medical malpractice lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm can review your legal options and work with you to determine the most appropriate next step.
If you or someone you care about has been injured by the carelessness of a medical professional, you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney like the ones at the Louthian Law Firm as soon as possible. Our attorneys can help you evaluate your case, protect your legal right to the courts, stand by your side throughout the legal process, and get you the best possible results. For a free consultation, call us today toll free at (803) 454-1200, or use our confidential online form. Louthian Law Firm. Seeking truth. Securing justice.