In short, no
Have you ever seen a sign in a car park telling you no responsibility is accepted for theft or damage to your possessions? This is an example of a disclaimer.
What exactly is a disclaimer? It’s an official statement, which limits legal responsibility for something. While it may be possible to avoid liability for damage to possessions, this is never the case for damage to people. The duty of care between a health professional and their patient is non-delegable and is always assumed to exist. The patient does not have to prove that a duty of care was owed to them.
You may believe that asking patients to sign a disclaimer before physiotherapy treatment or participation in physio-led exercise classes such as yoga or Pilates means that you cannot be held responsible for any bodily harm that may occur during treatment, and you cannot be sued. That’s wrong.
As a physiotherapist or physiotherapy support worker, you can never avoid your liabilities if you harm a patient through your negligence. Disclaimers have no place in physiotherapy practice. You must not ask an actual, or potential, service user to sign such a document in advance of advising or treating them. You are fully accountable for any advice and treatment that you give, related to the care of a patient.
Where there is a duty of care, this means you must provide a reasonable standard of care in all circumstances.
Disclaimers may be used in circumstances when it is unlikely a duty of care would be created. For example, writing a book or publishing a magazine article.
The small print, may include a disclaimer along the lines of ‘seek the advice of a qualified health professional if you are unsure if this content is suitable for you.’
- Julie Blackburn is a CSP professional adviser
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