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Even though a therapist or psychologist may not have spent as much time in school as a medical doctor, they can still be held liable for medical malpractice, also known as professional negligence, when they make mistakes in treatment or diagnosis. Although medical malpractice cases involving medical doctors tend to involve bodily injury, malpractice arising from a therapist's, or psychologist's, treatment tend to involve self harm, and/or harm to others.
Generally, a medical malpractice or professional negligence case against a therapist or psychologist will be treated similarly to a case against a medical doctor. The patient must prove that a duty was owed, breached, and that the breach caused the injury. In the professional negligence context, the duty owed is a moving target that depends on what the community's standard of care dictates.
State Law Will Control
Although the general principles behind professional negligence claims are the same across the country, the details on when a case must be filed, and how the filing should be done, vary from state to state. In several states, the deadline to file a claim is shorter than what is allowed for other types of injuries. Additionally, some states require that you provide the doctor and hospital notice, or obtain an expert medical opinion that malpractice occurred. Unless your state has carved out specific rules to proceed against therapists or psychologists for medical malpractice, then following the same rules that are applicable to medical doctors is a safe course of action.
Medical Professional Assault
While professional negligence claims tend to involve issues relating to the medical treatment received, when a therapist or psychologist crosses the line and commits an intentional tort, the medical malpractice or professional negligence causes of action may not be the only causes of action to sue under.
In what always shocks and surprises people, therapists and psychologist, like other authority figures, are not immune from making bad decisions and taking advantage of patients. News sources have reported countless incidents of therapists using their authoritative positions to carry on sexual relationships with patients. These situations can give rise to cases for sexual battery, sexual assault, and even rape.