Navigating Athletic Trainer Liability: Understanding the Risks

As healthcare providers, athletic trainers (ATs) are entrusted with diverse responsibilities, from acute care to rehabilitation. However, with this role comes the potential for liability, as any healthcare professional can be subject to lawsuits for negligence. Understanding the legal nuances and liability risks is paramount for ATs to safeguard themselves and ensure quality care. Let’s take a deep dive into the intricacies of AT liability and explore measures to mitigate risks effectively.

Defining Negligence: The Legal Landscape

In legal terms, negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care in treating a patient. To establish negligence, three elements must be present: 

  1. A duty of care
  2. A breach of that duty
  3. Resulting damages. 

When all three criteria are met, a patient retains the right to pursue legal action for negligence.

Types of Wrongdoings (Torts) in Negligence Cases

Negligence cases typically involve three main types of wrongdoing:

  1. Nonfeasance: This involves a failure to perform a legal duty, such as neglecting to conduct necessary diagnostic tests for a patient complaining of concussion symptoms.
  2. Malfeasance: Here, an individual commits an act beyond their authority, such as an AT performing sutures on a patient, a task typically reserved for medical professionals.
  3. Misfeasance: This occurs when a person improperly executes a task they have the right to perform, like mishandling spine boarding procedures, potentially exacerbating a patient’s injury.

Understanding Liability Insurance: A Vital Safeguard

To protect against the repercussions of negligence, ATs must secure professional liability insurance. This insurance protects them from legal consequences arising from their professional services. Both professional liability and general liability insurance are crucial for comprehensive coverage. Here’s a breakdown of key considerations:

  • Professional Liability Insurance: Essential for covering claims related to professional services rendered by the AT, including injury or death resulting from treatment. It’s vital to ensure that the insurance explicitly covers the AT’s scope of practice and patient populations served.
  • General Liability Insurance: This provides coverage for personal or business activities that may result in injuries. Key aspects to include in this coverage are protection against sexual misconduct claims, license protection, and provisions for loss of wages.

Navigating the Liability Toolkit: A Strategic Approach

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offers a valuable resource in the form of the Liability Toolkit. This toolkit assists ATs and employers in assessing the risk of professional and general negligence. Here’s a glimpse into its components:

  • Work Profile Assessment: Evaluates employment settings, job classifications, and patient populations served to ensure comprehensive liability coverage.
  • Regulation and Risk Management: Covers topics such as scope of practice adherence, medical documentation standards, and informed consent protocols to mitigate liability risks.
  • Job Description and Working Conditions: Ensures alignment between job descriptions and liability coverage, including provisions for transportation and travel-related liabilities.

A Checklist for Protection

The Liability Toolkit concludes with a checklist to help ATs to evaluate their liability insurance. Key considerations include reviewing coverage exclusions, verifying coverage limits, and assessing the insurance provider’s reputation and financial stability. These recommendations serve as a roadmap for enhancing liability protection and minimizing legal vulnerabilities.

Navigating the intricacies of athletic trainer liability requires a comprehensive understanding of legal obligations and risk mitigation strategies. By leveraging resources like the Liability Toolkit and securing robust liability insurance coverage, ATs can protect themselves against potential legal challenges and uphold the highest standards of patient care. 

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