Chiropractor malpractice happens all of the time. It is not that there are not good chiropractors. But the quality and skill of a chiropractor vary more wildly than medical doctors. Truth be told, there are probably more incompetent chiropractors than incompetent doctors.
The good news is that there are not many things that a chiropractor can do that will cost long-lasting harm. The overwhelming majority of chiropractor malpractice cases are minor injuries. What do you do if you are a victim of a mistake that was made by a chiropractor that caused you minor injuries?
There is not a lot you can do. You can complain to the state licensing agency in egregious cases but, realistically, that is not likely to go very far, unless the evidence is painfully clear. There is nothing fair about that, but this is a sad fact of life for all victims of malpractice who do not suffer serious injury or death. There are some truly bad chiropractors out there that need to be held accountable.Chiropractic Medicine in General
Chiropractic medicine is a “healing art,” which is premised on the understanding that a healthy nervous system is a key to having a healthy body.
The spine, one of the central elements of the nervous system, contains various bones, nerves, and tissues that can receive special attention from a chiropractor. Chiropractors treat these various ailments by making adjustments to the spinal column and manipulating bone and tissue.
Each state maintains a series of standards and regulations, ensuring chiropractors are properly educated and certified. While most chiropractors do not have the same formal medical education as a doctor, they must satisfy extensive training and testing to receive a license. Even though chiropractors are not considered medical doctors, they can still be held accountable for malpractice.Types of Chiropractor Malpractice
Believe it or not, one of the more severe injuries that can be sustained from a chiropractic malpractice is a stroke. This occurs when the neck is manipulated in such a way that causes a ruptured artery in the brain. Sometimes a patient can be completely unaware of the stroke until weeks after the accident, already leading to significant damage.
Of course, most injuries stem from negligent manipulation of the body. In this scenario, a chiropractor is making adjustments to a patient’s body that either causes new injury or makes a pre-existing injury worse. This type of malpractice can often produce disc herniation, nerve pain, lumbar pain, and even neurological damage. Plus, there are cases of pregnant women going into labor because a chiropractor manipulated their body in a negligent manner.
The most viable chiropractor malpractice cases we have seen involve tears of the vertebral and carotid arteries from manipulation.
Chiropractors also have a duty to diagnose medical conditions that require attention. For example, a chiropractor can be held liable for failing to diagnose or improperly diagnosing a patient’s medical condition if a reasonable chiropractor would have done so.
At the same time, chiropractors have to obtain informed consent before that can provide services. This obliges them to provide the patient with both the benefits and risks associated with a particular course of action. If a chiropractor treats a patient without consent, and an injury occurs, malpractice has likely occurred.Bringing a Malpractice Case
To successfully bring a medical malpractice case, the potential plaintiff needs to hire a lawyer. In a malpractice case in Maryland, the average personal injury lawyer is not qualified to make a claim. You need a lawyer who handles malpractice claims regularly. In a chiropractor negligence case, compensation may cover medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
To win, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a chiropractor did not adhere to the acceptable standard of care utilized by other reasonably qualified chiropractors. Similar to medical malpractice cases, this usually includes using expert testimony from other medical professionals establishing the applicable standard of care and how it was violated in a particular case. Keep in mind though that the standard of care in chiropractor cases is different than in medical malpractice cases.
One more problem worth mentioning: insurance. Not every chiropractor has malpractice insurance nor does every state require a chiropractor to maintain malpractice insurance. Maryland does not. Many chiropractors – disproportionately, those who are the subject of malpractice cases – do not have insurance. In this cases, these can be difficult claims to pursue because there is no significant money to pay a settlement or judgment.Sample Chiropractor Cases
There are not a lot of filed chiropractic malpractice cases. Below are a few settlements and verdicts from chiropractor negligence cases. While these cases serve as a good tool to help evaluate the value of a claim, they are by no means perfect predictors of how a case will play out. So take them for what they offer: a tool among many to help you understand the range of values for medical malpractice claims against chiropractors if you are successful.
There is one more thing you need to know if you have a chiropractic malpractice case or thinking of filing a claim. These are tough cases to win if you do not have the science to support your claim. For some reason, juries give chiropractors almost the same benefit of the doubt they give doctors. To find all of these plaintiffs' verdicts, we had to look past a lot of cases where the chiropractor won at trial or even before trial. We were unable to locate any verdicts against a chiropractor in 2017-18.
Does this mean your chiropractic malpractice suit is doomed to fail? No. But "just knowing" the chiropractor made a mistake will not be enough to win money damages. You need solid medical testimony to support your claim and a story that adds up.
2016, Washington: $6,291743 Verdict: Plaintiff has on the job head injuries were he had lost consciousness. Instead of proving testing or, better yet, referring him to a medical doctor, the chiropractors provide chiropractic treatment for six months. The man suffers a chronic subdural bleed, resulting in a permanent brain injury with both cognitive and physical impairment. The defense to the case was classic blame the victim, arguing he should have gone to a medical doctor himself. Obviously, the jury was not impressed with this defense.
2015, Florida: $1,426,767 Verdict: An adult male is having manipulation treatment by a chiropractor and suffers a vertebral artery and a stroke. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant chiropractor failed to obtain a thorough history and physical examination before the adjustment, adjusted the plaintiff’s neck when there was no complaint of neck pain and failed to warn of the risks of the treatment. The defendants denied liability. The jury awarded $1,426,767.
2015, New York: $500,000 Verdict: An adult male receiving chiropractic care suffers from a herniated disc which results in radiculopathy. The radiculopathy affects his left arm, neck, wrist and fingers and requires surgery. The plaintiff files suit alleging the defendant failed to diagnose the cervical spine problem before cervical manipulation, manipulated the cervical spine while the patient had severe cervical symptoms, including pain and spasms, failed to obtain informed consent, and ignored the patient's symptoms and performed a cervical manipulation. The defendant denied liability and contended the plaintiff signed a consent form, and the defendant explained the risks and alternatives of the procedure. The jury found the defendant failed to rule out cervical herniation before treatment, causing the injury and that defendant performed a procedure on the plaintiff which was a cause of injury to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was awarded $500,000.
2015, Florida: $1,390,018.51 Verdict: A female is receiving lumbar and sacral spine manipulations and suffers from severe pain. Shortly after, she underwent an MRI, which showed a large herniated disc with significate compression of the thecal sac. The plaintiff files a medical malpractice action and claims that the defendant chiropractor was negligent in performing an unnecessary, improper, and excessively forceful adjustment. The jury awards $1,390,018.51 in damages, $524,232.51 for past medical expenses, 565,000 for future medical expenses, $30,786 for past lost earnings, $40,000 for past pain and suffering and $230,000 for future pain and suffering.
2015, Arizona: $35,000 Verdict: A female is receiving chiropractic care when she feels an immediate and debilitating pain near the locations of the surgical rods from her prior scoliosis surgery. As a result, she alleges that she developed severe inflammation and bruising in the upper area of her rods and extreme pain in her neck, back, and ribs. She filed a lawsuit against the chiropractor as well as the chiropractor center alleging the defendant failed to exercise due care in providing treatment and breached the standard of care. The defendant denied performing any adjustments over the surgical rods, and even if he did that it was not the cause of her injuries. The jury awarded the plaintiff $35,000 in damages from the defendant chiropractor.
2013, Alabama: $577,000 Verdict: - A 42-year-old accountant suffered an onset of stroke symptoms immediately after a neck adjustment from his chiropractor. He began treatment for neck pain, but after his fourth session, he vomits and had slurred speech. He was transported to a hospital where he remained for 11 days and was diagnosed with a tear of the vertebral and carotid arteries on the left side of his neck. He filed suit against the chiropractor alleging that the adjustment procedure caused the stroke. Defendant argued that the plaintiff had a vertebral artery dissection that was in progress at the time of the treatment. After a five-day trial, the jury sided with the Plaintiff and awards $577,000. The take-home message is clear: it is usually clear negligence if a chiropractor's manipulations to the neck tears the vertebral artery.
- 2012, New Jersey: $14,596,000 Verdict/Settlement – After a middle age man presents to his primary care physician, he is referred to a chiropractor who noticed a cervical sprain. A week later, he suffered a severe disc herniation that resulted in him being paralyzed from the neck down. He decided to sue both his primary care physician and his chiropractor, alleging that they both failed to properly diagnose the condition. Further, he alleged that both the physician and chiropractor should not have advised manipulation of the discs. Before trial, the chiropractor settled for an undisclosed amount. However, the case against the primary care physician pressed on. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $14,596,000, allocating 95% liability to the chiropractor, and 5% to the primary care physician. When the verdict is modified to reflect the allocation of negligence, the primary care physician is obligated to pay $729,800.
- 2008, California: $132,785 Verdict – A nurse visited the chiropractor after experiencing spinal discomfort. After spinal manipulation, the nurse experienced immediate pain throughout her spine. She visited a doctor, who ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed several disc herniations, prompting the patient to sue the chiropractor for professional negligence. The defendant alleged that the pain stemmed from an automobile accident, and is not related to the chiropractor’s treatment. In the end, a six-day trial ends with a plaintiff’s verdict for $132,785.
If you have experienced an injury that resulted from a chiropractor’s negligence, you may have a claim for medical/professional malpractice. Contact the attorneys at Miller & Zois by visiting our website or calling 800-553-8082 for a free case consultation. We have the tools, skills, and expertise needed to obtain the compensation that you deserve.
- Example of a lawsuit against a chiropractor filed in Prince George's County