Physical Therapy and . . . Medical Malpractice in Maryland? Yes.

Physical Therapy MalpracticeWe count on all our health care professionals to help us feel better when we are sick, including the easing of pain and the restoration of movement. We want to feel like our old selves again. Therefore, we often see a physical therapist after an accident or surgery, or when we have a chronic condition that calls for it.

You may think of medical malpractice as involving cases that can only be brought against doctors. But in reality, medical malpractice suits can be brought against a large number of health care professionals, including nurses, dentists, pharmacists, lab technicians, and physical therapists.

It’s worth considering that an injury suffered during a physical therapy session could be the result of negligence, which is grounds for bringing a medical malpractice case. And, if you have a loved one who is a senior, especially one who lives in a nursing home, consider this: One study discovered that in medical malpractice claims, the treatment location in which the most severe injury was likely was the nursing home. Elderly persons’ bodies are more vulnerable to damage from improper or extreme therapies because of their weaker bones, meaning they are more at risk for dislocations and fractures.

Cases Have Increased

There has been a rise in medical malpractice claims brought against physical therapists. While the number is still small when compared to those brought against doctors, the rise indicates changes in our medical system over the past 20 to 25 years. These days, physical therapists often do not work under the direct supervision of a doctor and must make more complex diagnostic and treatment decisions independently. These facts increase the need for certain critical skills, while squeezing physical therapists for the time necessary for providing proper care.

Hands-on Care at Greatest Fault

As with any other medical professional, a physical therapist can feel time pressures through appointment overbooking and scheduling delays that are out of their control, causing them to rush through a patient’s hands-on exercises. These time pressures can lead to decisions based in negligence. If a physical therapist is hurrying, they also may not be as eager to heed a patient’s complaints of pain.

It’s important to note that in physical therapy medical malpractice cases from 1991 through 2004, treatment-related situations were the reasons for 77 percent of cases brought. The top categories for claims were:

  • A lack of supervision during patient exercises: 15 percent. In one case, a physical therapist left a patient in a pool without supervision. Even though the patient was wearing a life jacket, he ended up fully submerged and now must live in an assisted living facility.
  • Using improper therapeutic movement that injures the patient: 11 percent. Incorrectly done spinal thrusts during treatment caused a ruptured disc in one patient.
  • Improper techniques, nonstandard modifications of therapies, or dropping the patient: 11 percent. One patient died from an inappropriate modification of a therapy.
  • Not using hot packs or thermotherapy appropriately: 10 percent. A hot-pack treatment applied by one physical therapist caused severe burns and scarring.
  • Causing injury while stretching the patient through overextension of limbs or joints: 7 percent.

Certain other situations can also signify negligence on the part of the therapist, substantiating a medical malpractice case:

  • Paying little or no attention to a patient’s complaints of pain. One physical therapist did not heed the patient’s cries of pain while employing an overly-aggressive treatment. The patient had a history of serious knee problems and the therapy caused severe, permanent injury.
  • Not taking a patient’s physical limitations into account and thus not appropriately modifying a treatment plan in a standard way.
  • Not instructing a patient in the proper use of therapy equipment.
  • Having patients use broken equipment.
  • Not telling patients their risks during physical therapy.
  • Assaulting a patient, sexually or otherwise.

Issues in Bringing a Medical Malpractice Claim

Physical therapists can be held liable for medical malpractice in Maryland. But all medical malpractice cases must prove a number of elements, no matter what kind of health care professional is involved:

  • The medical professional and the patient must have had a therapeutic relationship.
  • The medical professional breached what is called “the medical standard of care.”
  • This breach of care harmed the patient.
  • The harm can be measured, or quantified, as damages. One example of damages would be reimbursing the patient for the costs of medical treatment to correct the harm done by the medical professional being sued.

To find out more about the medical standard of care, the question of negligence and the standard of care, and medical malpractice law in Maryland, please see our page dedicated to these questions.

A Skilled and Caring Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You

An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to listen to the facts of your case, conduct a thorough investigation, and help you devise a legal strategy for obtaining compensation for your injuries. Due to the involvement of insurance companies and defendants who can afford a strong legal team, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with an attorney who has extensive experience with the ins and outs of medical malpractice. Not every medical malpractice claim will hold up in court. However, the only way to determine this is through a thorough case review.

If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of what you believe to be medical malpractice, contact the law offices of Steven H. Heisler today for a free initial consultation about whether you have a case at (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form.