When an injured person brings a personal injury claim against the liable party, the cost of necessary medical and other expenses is included in the plaintiff's damage award. It is fairly common to seek chiropractic treatment as part of care regimen after certain types of injuries, particularly as a result of a car accident or other sudden impact injuries. This article discusses to what extent chiropractic expenses can be recovered in a personal injury claim.
A losing defendant must typically pay all of the plaintiff's reasonably necessary medical expenses related to the accident. As part of proving his or her damages in a case, the plaintiff will submit all of the medical and therapeutic bills he or she incurred as a result of the injury.
However, simply because the plaintiff received treatment, including chiropractic treatment, does not mean the jury must assume the treatment was necessary. Of vital importance are the treating chiropractor's records: the specific symptoms, the treatment provided and the cost incurred for each treatment must be clearly laid out in the records and billing. Vague and inconclusive records could lead to the denial of chiropractic treatment as not "reasonably necessary."
In highly contested cases, a plaintiff may need to hire an expert to testify that the kind of medical treatment the plaintiff received was necessary to treat his or her injuries. The defendant can, in turn, hire a different expert to testify to the contrary. Whether expert witnesses are involved in a case or not, it is ultimately up to the jury to determine how much of the plaintiff's chiropractic expenses were "reasonably necessary" (although a judge can modify a jury award if the award doesn't make sense in light of the evidence presented in the case).
Although a jury may be skeptical about the necessity or efficacy of chiropractic treatment, chiropractic expenses are not to be prohibited on the argument that they are not considered medical expenses. However, chiropractic expenses can get to be quite high, particularly if the plaintiff is receiving several treatments a week over several months. The jury may be persuaded that some chiropractic treatment was necessary, but only require the defendant to pay a portion of the total bill.
The vast majority of personal injury cases settle before trial. In many cases involving chiropractic treatment, particularly auto accidents, a defendant's insurance company will negotiate and pay the settlement or trial award, if any.
Because of the difficulty plaintiffs can face having their entire chiropractic bill paid at trial, insurance companies are reluctant to pay those same bills in a pre-trial settlement. If a plaintiff is expected to make a full recovery, but has not yet done so, the case may not be ready for settlement until the chiropractor feels the plaintiff has made the maximum potential recovery. In this situation, the plaintiff could find him or herself with mounting chiropractic bills and uncertainty whether those bills will ever be paid back. The plaintiff and his or her attorney will need to make the judgment call whether accepting a settlement that does not cover some or all of the chiropractic treatment is the best option, or whether taking their chances at trial is the way to go.