A 45-year-old man with a history of traumatic brain injury had limited use of his extremities and had contractures of his left elbow and left shoulder. He was receiving twice-weekly aquatic therapy from his physical therapist for six months to increase his range of motion and to improve his quality of life. The aquatic therapy provided by his physical therapist helped the man to make great progress in his physical condition and resulted in much improvement in the quality of his life.
The routine at the end of each aquatic therapy session was for the physical therapist to allow the man to move alone along the pool wall using the handrail. The man had on a flotation device during the aquatic therapy sessions and a lifeguard supervised the users of the pool. At the conclusion of the man’s last aquatic therapy session, the physical therapist turned his attention to another aquatic therapy patient. Despite the man wearing a flotation device and the lifeguard being on duty, a physical therapy aide was the first person to observe the man fully submerged in the pool.
The physical therapy aide pulled the man from the pool and the aide and the lifeguard performed CPR on the man. The man began breathing on his own after several minutes and he was then transported to the hospital. The length of time the man was submerged under water and how he became submerged while wearing a flotation device were never determined.
The man was treated in the hospital for about one month for aspiration pneumonia and adult respiratory distress syndrome; he sustained 50% loss of his lung capacity due to his near drowning. He was transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility where he remained for an extensive period of time. He ultimately was sent to an assisted living facility where he remained.
The physical therapist and the owner of the pool were sued by the man and his wife for the failure to directly supervise the man while he was independently ambulating in the pool; failing to specifically assign the physical therapy aide to directly monitor the man while he independently ambulated in the pool; and, for relying on the man’s flotation device to keep him safe instead of direct monitoring and supervision of the man while he was in the pool. The physical therapy malpractice claim was subsequently settled for an amount in excess of $500,000. Legal expenses were reportedly in excess of $60,000.
It is not often that physical therapists are sued for malpractice. But if a physical therapist fails to provide that level of care and treatment that a reasonably competent physical therapist would provide under the same or similar circumstances, the physical therapist has breached the physical therapy standard of care and may be held responsible for the harms caused by the breach.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries or other harms as a result of physical therapy malpractice, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney who may agree to investigate your possible physical therapy malpractice claim for you and represent you in a malpractice claim against a physical therapist, if appropriate.
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