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©William E. Prentice


When you finish this chapter you will be able to:

  • Explain legal considerations for anyone acting as a health care provider.

  • Define the legal concepts of liability, negligence, torts, assumption of risk.

  • Identify measures that can be taken to minimize chances of litigation.

  • Describe product liability.

  • Identify the essential insurance requirements for protection of the athlete.

  • Describe the types of insurance necessary to protect an individual who provides health care to anyone who is injured.


In recent years, negligence suits against physical education teachers, fitness professionals, coaches, athletic trainers, school administrators, and physicians, arising out of sports injuries, have increased both in frequency and in the amount of damages awarded.5,7,16 An increasing awareness of the many risk factors present in physical activities is essential.

Ironically, all individuals who provide health care are constantly held accountable both for things they do and things they don’t do when treating patients. The potential always exists that techniques and procedures used in providing health care will result in some legal action regarding issues of liability and negligence, regardless of the setting in which they practice.22,26

liability Being legally responsible for the harm one causes another person.

negligence The failure to use ordinary or reasonable care.

Liability means being legally responsible for the harm one causes another person.28 A great deal of care must be taken in following policies and procedures, to reduce the risk of being sued by an athlete and being found liable for negligence.16

Negligence is the failure to use ordinary or reasonable care—care that persons would normally exercise to avoid injury to themselves or to others under similar circumstances.29

It is important to reemphasize that it is essential for anyone providing healthcare to know the legal limitations of his or her responsibilities as defined by the laws, statutes, and specific state practice acts that dictate what they can and cannot do in the specific state where that individual is employed.22 Anyone providing any level of health care to an injured athlete must know exactly what his or her limitations are to avoid overstepping boundaries and risking violation of the regulatory practice acts of various health care groups such as physical therapists.

This chapter provides basic information about things that can be done to minimize the risks of litigation and briefly discusses the types of insurance needed to protect the athlete and the coach, the fitness professional, and the administrator.21,29

The Standard of Reasonable Care

The standard of reasonable care assumes that an individual is neither exceptionally skillful nor extraordinarily cautious but is a person of reasonable and ordinary prudence.26 Put another ...

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