Avoiding Liability Bulletin – May 2007

Most private practitioners practice as sole proprietors. Some sole proprietors may unwittingly expose themselves to possible liability for the negligent acts of others. This can occur if the practitioner is involved in what is called an “ostensible partnership.” In other words, if a patient reasonably believes that a partnership exists, a jury or judge may conclude that one or more individuals who practice together should be treated as a partnership for purposes of assigning liability.

A basic rule of partnership liability is that each partner can be held personally liable for the negligent acts of the other partners. Thus, therapists who practice in “loose groups” and use the same fictitious business name on their business cards or letterhead as their colleagues, and perhaps share receptionists and waiting rooms, should make sure that their patients are clearly informed that no partnership exists and that the patient is being treated by the therapist – a sole proprietor who is essentially unaffiliated with others in the office.

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Richard Leslie

Richard S. Leslie is an attorney and acknowledged expert on the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and has written articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. While there, he also served as their director of Government Relations and tirelessly advocated for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants.

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