Can Therapists Be Sued for Medical Malpractice?

ELI5: Negligence

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Therapists, much like other medical professionals, are able to be held responsible for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical care provider either makes a mistake or acts outside their job description. Psychotherapy, usually just called “therapy,” is considered to be under the category of medical care. However, in order to have a high chance of winning a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff will need to have sustained significant damages in the form of physical or emotional injuries due to the therapist’s conduct. When it comes to mental health care, this can be difficult to prove because therapists typically do not record their sessions. Therefore, there’s often no record of negligence. But in some circumstances, a therapist could be found liable for the injuries they’ve caused to their patient.


Medical Malpractice against therapists

Again, these cases are difficult because therapy sessions aren’t typically recorded. So, even if a therapist did act negligently, or even egregiously, there’s usually not much physical evidence so proving what happened may be difficult. Furthermore, the average therapist does not have the education, training, or ability to prescribe medication to clients so prescription-related injuries caused by therapists are uncommon. In order to have a successful medical malpractice case, the plaintiff will need to be able to prove that the therapist has breached their duty. Proving that the therapist has breached their duty may be difficult if they breached their duty during the session and no tangible evidence of that breach exists.  However, if a therapist’s actions were egregious enough, and the damages were significant enough, they could be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.


Incompetence is not necessarily medical malpractice. Your therapist could very well mistake something like obsessive-compulsive disorder with generalized anxiety disorder, or autism spectrum disorder. Though your therapist has demonstrated incompetence, they haven’t necessarily been negligent. Also, what are the damages? In order to have a successful medical malpractice claim, you need to be able to prove that you were significantly damaged. Though a misdiagnosis may be emotionally damaging and may set your therapy back, the damage could be difficult to put a monetary value on. It is much easier to reclaim compensation when there are physical damages that have a definite monetary value. Also, having a bad experience in therapy does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice either, especially if the damages aren’t obvious.


Medical Malpractice against therapists

A therapist may be responsible for injuries that occur if they knew, or reasonably should have known, that their client was a threat to themselves or others, and they failed to react appropriately such as alerting the authorities. Though therapists are not permitted to discuss the details of your therapy sessions as they please, they are required to report certain things like instances of abuse and neglect. They’re also obligated to report patients who have demonstrated an intent to harm themselves or others. If they have reason to believe a patient is going to harm themselves or another person, and they neglect to report that to the proper authorities, and the patient goes on to harm themselves or others, the therapist could be liable. However, the therapist can only be liable if it can be proven that they knew their client was a danger to themselves or others.


If a therapist physically or sexually abuses an underage client, there may be a medical malpractice case. Though it could be difficult to prove that a therapist groomed and sexually exploited their client since the sessions aren’t recorded, a personal injury case against such a therapist would likely follow a criminal trial where evidence had been presented and the abused client had been evaluated for signs of abuse. Though this is primarily an issue for underage clients, if a client is a legal adult, but cognitively impaired, they may also have a medical malpractice claim.  Cases of sexual exploitation that involve legal adults without cognitive impairment may are more likely to be seen as undue influence. Either way, the therapist knows better than to abuse their clients of any age, so if abuse is proven it wouldn’t be hard to then prove that it was malpractice.


Medical Malpractice against therapists

Undue influence occurs when a person in a powerful position influences a vulnerable person into doing something that disproportionately benefits the person in power. Due to the one-sided nature of therapeutic relationships, and their professional training and credentials, therapists are in a position of power. The client is in a more vulnerable position since they’re opening up to a therapist about their intimate struggles. If a therapist influences their client to enter a romantic relationship with them, that may be considered to be medical malpractice. Engaging in a sexual relationship with clients is illegal. Even years after the therapist has ceased sessions with the client, a sexual relationship may still be illegal depending on the amount of time it’s been. Undue influence may also occur if a therapist manipulates their client into doing something they wouldn’t have normally done, such as influencing a client into making the therapist the beneficiary on their life insurance policy.


If you have been injured by a therapist, Moxie Law Group is here for you. Moxie Law Group is your first stop when you’re looking for medical malpractice attorneys in Utah. Our talented and experienced legal team is committed to fighting for the compensation you deserve. If you think you have a medical malpractice claim, contact Moxie Law Group today for a consultation at no cost to you.

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