Suing a Chiropractor for Injury: Medical Negligence

Patients who receive sub-standard chiropractic treatment -- spinal manipulation, neck & back "adjustments", etc. -- that causes injury may be able to file a lawsuit.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

Chiropractic medicine can be very beneficial. However, there are times when things go wrong and a chiropractic patient is injured. This article discusses the legal options an injured patient might have.

Injuries From Neck & Back Adjustments or Spinal Manipulation

The main and most severe injury that can be sustained by patients as a result of chiropractic manipulation is a stroke.

Other potential injuries and symptoms that can result from neck adjustments and other chiropractic procedures include:

  • pinched arteries
  • spinal stenosis
  • frequent headaches
  • numbness/tingling of limbs
  • vertigo, and
  • facial paralysis.

Spinal manipulation of the mid and lower back can also cause severe injuries such as bone-weakening disease, disc herniation, muscle weakness and bladder and bowel paralysis.

All of these are potentially debilitating injuries that, if the chiropractor provided sub-standard medical care, might warrant a lawsuit.

Patient Injury & Liability of a Chiropractor

In taking legal action against a chiropractor for an injury, several legal theories (called "causes of action" in legalese) might be available.

The most typical cause of action is for professional negligence. Professional negligence (referred to as medical malpractice where health care professionals are involved) is more complicated to prove than a standard negligence case, primarily because the plaintiff is required to show what a typical, reasonably competent chiropractor would have done under the circumstances and that the defendant chiropractor didn't meet those standards.

In most states, this means that the plaintiff will need an expert witness qualified to testify to both what a typically safe chiropractor would have done and what the defendant chiropractor did wrong.

State licensing laws control what kind of treatments chiropractors are allowed to administer. If a plaintiff's injury is a result of something a chiropractor was not permitted to do under the terms of his or her license, then the plaintiff may be able to successfully sue for fraud or willful and wanton misconduct.

Additionally, if the chiropractor performs a procedure for which the plaintiff did not give permission, the plaintiff could sue for civil battery, or at least bring a medical malpractice action based on lack of consent to treatment.

Finally, a plaintiff may be able to sue for breach of contract if a chiropractor makes very specific promises about the results of treatment, and those results are not achieved.

Filing a Lawsuit

In many states, a plaintiff suing a chiropractor must follow the rules of medical malpractice lawsuits. These rules can be quite complicated, and failure to follow them correctly can lead to the case being thrown out.

For example, in some states, before filing a lawsuit, a plaintiff must give the defendant chiropractor a notice that the plaintiff intends to sue, and on what bases, and at the outset of the case the plaintiff must provide an expert opinion stating that the chiropractor did not meet the standard of care. In addition, some states require the plaintiff to submit the case to a review panel before the lawsuit. Often, the plaintiff must do all this within two or three years of the injury, sometimes less.

In some states, it is possible that a plaintiff will not have to follow medical malpractice lawsuit rules if he or she is suing under a cause of action like breach of contract. However, it would be quite difficult for someone other than an attorney familiar with the laws of the state to know if special rules apply.

In other words, a lawsuit against a chiropractor for an injury from treatment is generally not a "do-it-yourself" situation. The complexity of filing a lawsuit and handling the lengthy litigation process associated with these cases is why hiring an attorney is so important.

Another consideration is that a defendant chiropractor will be far less likely to settle an injury case with an unrepresented plaintiff, since the chances are higher that the plaintiff will make a mistake and lose the lawsuit before ever making it to trial. If you feel that you have a potential lawsuit for chiropractic injury, you might want to discuss your case with an attorney in your area who has experience with medical malpractice cases -- and even better, cases against chiropractors.

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