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Updated PT claim report helps physical therapists understand their liability risks ​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

A new report from Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), in collaboration with CNA, found that from 2001 to 2010, $44 million was paid in professional liability judgments, settlements, and expenses on behalf of physical therapists (PTs), with an average of $103,111 per claim. Physical Therapy Liability, 2001-2010, released February 20, 2012, also found that the three most common allegations in cases of a paid license defense claim were: 


  • improper management over the course of treatment (37.6%)

  • inappropriate behavior (26.5%)

  • fraudulent billing (14.7%).

The number of claims significantly increased the longer survey respondents worked as PTs. In fact, the highest percentage of claims involved PTs who had worked more than 21 years.

Protecting yourself

Can you avoid becoming a malpractice statistic? The findings from Physical Therapy Liability indicate that many errors are predictable and preventable. To minimize your potential liability, follow standards of care and document thoroughly and consistently.

Specific strategies from the report include:

1. Communicate effectively with patients, families, and colleagues. For example, use handoff communication techniques when transferring the care of a patient to another therapist or provider.

2. Delegate PT services only to the appropriate level of staff and provide appropriate supervision for all delegated patient services. For example, never leave the therapy area when the patient is receiving services from another level of staff.

3. Adopt an informed consent process that includes discussion and teach-back from the patient, and demonstrates that the patient understands the risks associated with treatment. For example, provide patient education materials and document you did so in the medical record. 

4. Ensure that clinical documentation practices comply with the standards promulgated by PT professional associations, state practice acts, and facility protocols. For example, remember to include objective facts related to any patient accident, injury or adverse outcome. 

5. Avoid documentation errors that may weaken legal defense efforts if litigation occurs. For example, don’t document subjective opinions, and do make corrections according to organizational policy.

6. Maintain clinical competencies specific to the relevant patient population. For example, attend classes to maintain your competencies.

7. Be vigilant about protecting patients from the most common types of injuries—re-injuries, burns, and fractures. For example, routinely test, monitor, and log temperatures of whirlpool water, hot-pack warmers, paraffin tanks, and other equipment. 

8. Recognize patients’ medical conditions, comorbidities, and any additional specific risk actors that may affect therapy. For example, remember that in addition to diseases such as osteoporosis, you need to consider side effects of medications. 

9. Treat patients with respect and compassion during their course of therapy. For example, when needed or requested by the patient, have a second staff member present during treatments or procedures involving therapeutic touching. 

10. Monitor the environment of care to maximize patient safety. For example, implement safety measures such as keeping hallways and treatment areas unobstructed.

11. Know and comply with state laws regarding scope of practice. For example, if regulatory requirements differ from organizational policies or expectations, follow the most stringent ones. 

Take action now

Don’t delay in putting the report’s recommendations into practice. Complete The Physical Therapy Liability report’s risk control self-assessment checklist so you can identify areas where you need to take action to reduce your risk of liability.


Physical Therapy Liability 2001-2010​.  Accessed March 9, 2012.​

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