Every day thousands of people rely on chiropractic treatment for medical conditions such as back pain, neck pain, strains, sprains, pain associated with arthritis, as well as work and sports injuries. Chiropractors can also specialize in radiology, pain management, in addition to prescribed exercise and rehabilitation.
When you seek medical treatment of any kind, from a doctor or from a chiropractor, your treatment provider is expected to meet the proper standard of care to protect the health and safety of patients. Like any medical professional, a chiropractor can make the wrong kind of adjustment or manipulation that can cause serious injuries and increase the risk of stroke.
If a chiropractor caused you long-term or permanent harm during treatment, then you may have a chiropractic malpractice claim and be able to recover damages in the form and financial compensation.
What is Chiropractor Malpractice?
Chiropractor malpractice refers to the improper, illegal, or negligent treatment by a practitioner of chiropractic medicine, resulting in harm to the patient. While chiropractors are not medical doctors, they can still be liable for malpractice or chiropractic negligence if their care falls below the acceptable standard in the circumstances.
Chiropractors have a legal responsibility to:
- Inform you of the treatment plan
- Have a reasonable clinic basis for recommending chiropractic treatment
- Advise you on the risks and potential complications of the treatment
- Provide treatment that meets a reasonable standard of care
- Refer you to a specialist as needed
In general, chiropractor negligence refers to harm caused by avoidable mistakes which fall below the standard of care. The negligence is usually unintentional. For example, if a chiropractor making adjustments to treat back pain must consider a patient’s pre-existing health conditions. Is there anything about the patient’s body that should give the chiropractor reason to think twice before doing the adjustment? If such pre-existing health conditions are negligently overlooked, the chiropractic treatment could cause significant damage. When chiropractic negligence results in new injuries, aggravating an existing injury, or wrongful death, one or more health care providers may be held liable for any resulting damages.
Examples of Chiropractor Malpractice
Chiropractic adjustments to bones, joints, and muscles are a form of non-surgical treatment for physical pain and injuries. Side effects from chiropractic treatment generally include mild discomfort, stiffness, and soreness that typically resolve in a short time. In some cases, the negligent actions (or inaction) of a chiropractor can cause new injury or make an existing injury worse.
An example of a chiropractor malpractice case involves a Plaintiff (the patient) seeking chiropractic treatments from the Defendant (the chiropractor) for pain on the right side of his neck. The chiropractor diagnosed the patient with thoracic and lumbar joint dysfunction but failed to request proper image testing. Following chiropractic treatment, the Plaintiff’s symptoms got worse, leading to the loss of taste, nausea, dizziness, and mobility limitations. In response, the chiropractor performed neck manipulation instead of referring the patient to a medical doctor.
A few days later, the Plaintiff went back to the chiropractor with symptoms of a stroke. During this appointment, the chiropractor administered another round of unsuccessful therapy before sending the Plaintiff to the hospital. At the hospital, an MRI showed dissection of three cervical arteries causing acute left cerebellar and right stroke. The neurologist indicated that the Plaintiff’s stroke could be the result of recent chiropractic adjustments and neck manipulation. In this real life example, the chiropractor malpractice claim was successful for the Plaintiff, who was awarded $1 million in damages.
Common Chiropractic Injuries
Some chiropractors use cervical manipulation therapy (CMT) to treat head and neck pain. These chiropractic treatments involve quick, thrusting adjustments (either manual or through use of specialized equipment) to a patient’s body to correct alignment, motion, or function. Improper or negligent CMT can stretch or tear an artery, causing a stroke. In some cases, a blood clot can form during chiropractic care that gets dislodged by a later adjustment. A blood clot like this often leads to a stroke.
Common types of chiropractic adjustment injuries include:
- Herniated discs
- Broken ribs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Neck damage
- Nerve damage
- Sciatic nerve pain
- Pinched nerves
- Lumbar pain
- Lower back pain
- Neurological damage
- Chiropractic induced stroke
- Spinal stenosis
- Facial paralysis
- Torn ligaments
The complexity of neck and back injuries could mean that you might require future medical care and treatment. If you have experienced improper chiropractic treatment, contact a chiropractic malpractice lawyer (also called a medical malpractice lawyer) to discuss the merits of your claim. In other words, your lawyer will work with experts in the medical community to evaluate the evidence and your medical records to determine if chiropractor malpractice occurred. A malpractice lawyer will claim damages and seek a settlement or judgment to cover the full cost of your damages or losses.
Causes of Chiropractic Malpractice
Many patients seek chiropractic care for physical trauma when they don’t receive sufficient relief from conventional methods of medical treatment. Like other medical protocols, chiropractic services carry risks. Since chiropractors often do not receive the advanced training in physiology and anatomy as medical doctors, their treatments are more susceptible to injuries. Victims of chiropractic manipulation gone wrong may end up suffering from a medical condition that is much more serious than the original health issue they sought to treat.
Chiropractic negligent care can include:
- Failure to obtain appropriate history and records
- Negligent manipulation of the body
- Delay or failure to diagnose a medical condition
- Lack of informed consent about treatment options and risks
- Failure to conduct a proper pre-chiropractic manipulation physical examination
- Failure to refer a patient to a medical doctor
- Failure to order diagnostic imaging prior to chiropractic treatments
You can possibly sue for medical malpractice if you believe that a chiropractor’s negligence caused your injuries. However, the standard of care considers the chiropractor’s knowledge at the time of treatment. For example, if you don’t tell your chiropractor that you have osteoporosis, and your chiropractor would have no reason to suspect you have this underlying condition, you likely can’t hold the chiropractor accountable for injuries resulting from the treatment.
How to Prove Chiropractor Malpractice
There are a number of ways that chiropractor negligence can lead to a serious injury or loss. An adverse outcome is not enough to pursue legal action. Proving chiropractor malpractice (referred to as medical malpractice when health care providers are involved), involves four components for a claim to be successful. Each element requires medical records and expert evidence to meet the civil standard of proof.
Duty of Care: You must show that a chiropractor-patient relationship existed. A chiropractor who accepts you as a patient and agrees to provide treatment has a duty to provide reasonable care that protects your health and safety.
Breach of Duty: The duty of care is breached when your chiropractor fails to meet the standard of care that a reasonably competent chiropractor with similar skills would have provided under the same circumstances.
Causation: Breach of duty alone does not necessarily warrant a chiropractic malpractice case. The substandard care must be linked to the resulting injuries you experienced.
Damages: The injuries sustained from chiropractor negligence must result in compensatory damages. This is a legal term that refers to monetary compensation that pays for your physical, psychological, and financial losses. Types of damages can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Emotional distress
- Loss of future earning capacity
In some cases, you may be able to hold a or healthcare facility (e.g., a hospital or medical clinic) liable for the negligent actions of employees if they were acting within the scope of their employment. This is called vicarious liability. A healthcare facility may additionally be considered liable in negligence for your injuries if it fails to hire licensed staff, provide proper training, or lacks a sufficient number of caregivers on duty.
Steps to File Chiropractic Malpractice Lawsuits
The first step to building your case is to contact a chiropractor malpractice lawyer within the limitation period to discuss your legal options. It will be helpful to produce a list of anyone who was involved in your treatment and care, and your relevant medical records (chiropractic and other). It is likely that your malpractice lawyer will send these records to various medical experts for review.
Statement of Claim
If your chiropractor malpractice lawyer determines you have a viable claim, they will file a lawsuit on your behalf. The chiropractor, or other treatment provider, that you are suing will typically have insurance to respond to the allegations in the statement of claim. The insurance company will then hire a lawyer to respond to the allegations by filing a document called a statement of defence.
Discovery examinations involves each party (you and the health care provider you’re suing) going on record and giving oral evidence of what happened. You will be asked questions about how the chiropractor malpractice has impacted your life. The chiropractor will be asked questions related to treatment decisions and techniques.
Settlement or Litigation
Other evidence, including medical expert opinions and medical records, will be provided to all parties. The parties can enter into a settlement agreement at any stage. If no settlement can be reached, the chiropractic malpractice case will advance to a trial.
Time Limit for Filing Chiropractor Malpractice Claims
If you believe you have a claim, you must file a chiropractic malpractice claim within two years. The two-year limitation period begins to run on the date that you knew, or should have known, that you suffered an injury due to the chiropractor’s failure to provider a reasonable standard of care.
Regardless of any exceptions related to the limitation period, you will not be able to file a chiropractic malpractice claim after fifteen years. In Nova Scotia, this is known as the “ultimate limitation period,” after which you can’t recover compensation.
Compensation for Chiropractic Malpractice Lawsuits
The amount of compensation that you can claim for chiropractor malpractice varies on the complexity of the injuries or losses and the severity of the long-term impact. Understandably, many malpractice victims seek quick settlements to pay their medical bills and move on. However, settling for an amount too early is often a mistake. Early settlements rarely compensate for the full extent of a serious injury. Your medical malpractice lawyer will consult with medical experts to determine whether your injuries will cause long-term or permanent disabilities and will assess the level of compensation you can recover accordingly.
The assessment for monetary compensation will be based on:
- The nature of the injury and the impact on your life
- Any avoidable suffering
- Loss of income
- Cost of care and future medical treatment
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury due to a chiropractor malpractice, you may be able to sue your treatment provider and recover compensation for your injuries. To have your claim reviewed, call Valent Legal to book a free consultation with one of our medical malpractice lawyers today.