There are not that many chiropractor malpractice cases. Is it that chiropractors are particularly competent health care providers? No. Chiropractors’ negligence usually does not result in serious injury. Most of the cases we get calls on are negligent manipulation cases where the injury is not particularly serious by viable malpractice case standards and proof of what caused what is usually an exacerbation of a preexisting condition and is a challenge. That said, there are sometimes significant claims to be made against chiropractors and, because they do not have the halo effect that doctors have, there is a very level playing field for plaintiffs filing suit them. Stunningly, chiropractors are trusted less in most communities than lawyers (but ahead of Congress, of course). Which really is saying something.
The standard of care applied in these cases is different than the standard that would be applied to a medical doctor. Medical malpractice law holds chiropractors to the standard of the use of the same degree of care and competence as other ordinary, prudent chiropractors. It is a battle for chiropractors who have a patient who is outside of the garden variety patient. Many are not trained to accurately diagnose and refer patients to the right medical doctor who can solve their problem. That is not a knock on them. This is a good time to mention that many of our clients think a chiropractor is the most skilled medical provider they have based on their real-world experience of getting treatment for pain. But chiropractic schools do not adequately prepare these health care providers to function as a primary care physician. A PCP is what is required to catch many ailments that a health care provider needs to catch to keep a patient safe.
[Let’s interrupt this post for a safety alert. There is a way for patients to protect themselves against chiropractor malpractice: get a medical doctor to evaluate them and bless the work that the chiropractor is doing. So many patients now go just to the chiropractor. It is just not something you should do. End safety alert.]
Do you need an expert in a chiropractor malpractice claim? Some states view a chiropractor’s negligence as ordinary negligence. I would never take the risk of going to trial in anything resembling a medical malpractice case and not coming armed with an expert. Chiropractors are still licensed medical providers in, I believe, every state. As such, they hold themselves out — and implicitly the state holds them out — as capable of providing treatment for human ailments and assumes these duties and responsibilities as any other health care provider.
Types of Chiropractor Malpractice
Malpractice lawsuits against chiropractors often fall into one of two categories: (1) failure to diagnose a medical condition that needs immediate care, and (2) harm to the patient from the treatment itself.
Failure to Diagnosis a Medical Condition that Demands Immediate Care
These cases are sometimes tricky, and it goes back to what I just talked about: how much knowledge and experience do you expect a chiropractor to have? Typically, what you see in these cases is a know-it-all chiropractor who presents themselves essentially as a medical doctor, just with more wisdom and real world common sense, who suddenly transforms at trial into an “I’m just a chiropractor with limited medical training.”
So do we require chiropractors to be able to diagnose a patient’s spine that has been weakened by metastatic bladder cancer or multiple myelomas? I think the answer on these types of issues is yes and no. We cannot expect a chiro to know what the problem is. But they should have the medical training and still to be able to identify a problem and, if nothing else, send them to their primary care doctor.
Harm to the Patient from the Treatment
Most of these cases are negligent manipulation that occurs during the treatment when a chiropractor is making an adjustment to the patient that either creates a new injury or exacerbates an existing one. Negligent chiropractic adjustments can cause herniated discs, neck injuries, nerve damage, and other injuries.
There is an even bigger problem: a chiropractic-induced stroke. This is not a failure to diagnose the issue. This is when the chiropractor’s treatment causes a stroke. How does this happen? Arteries to the brain can become ruptured or blocked by the chiropractor’s manipulation of the patient’s neck. The vertebral artery is especially at risk because it wraps around the cervical vertebra entering into the head. This can cause a blot clot which cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
How Much Is a Chiropractor Malpractice Claim Worth?
The trial or settlement value of a chiropractor malpractice claim depends, of course, on the injuries and how strong the liability case is, just like any other malpractice claim. Below are some sample chiropractor malpractice settlements and verdicts. Keep in mind that these are the verdicts in these cases. Sample verdicts and settlements do not and cannot predict the value of individual cases. Still, they can be a lens, along with other tools, to putting a dollar figure on these claims.
- 2015, Florida: $100,000 Verdict. A female minor with severe scoliosis is receiving chiropractic treatment administered by the defendant and suffers extreme curvature of the spine, compromised thoracic and lung capacity. These injuries led to extensive surgery and permanent damage. The plaintiff’s parent and guardian brought her to the defendant chiropractor in order to decrease the lateral curvature of her spine. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant chiropractor failed to properly monitor the effect or lack of benefit of the treatment and failed to refer the minor to an orthopedic specialist sooner. The defendant denied negligence and that the plaintiff’s parents were specifically informed and aware that the minor needed surgery and if left untreated would become more severe. Court documents should that the parents declined surgery because of the costs. The jury found the defendant 25% negligent and the parents 75% negligent. The jury awarded the plaintiff $20,000 for past pain and suffering and $80,000 for future pain and suffering.
- 2013, Alabama: $577,000 Verdict. Plaintiff, a 42-year-old accountant, suffered an onset of stroke symptoms immediately after a neck adjustment with a chiropractor. Plaintiff began treatment with a chiropractor as a result of neck pain. Immediately after the Plaintiff’s fourth session, he vomited and had slurred speech. He was transported to a hospital where he remained for 11 days, diagnosed with tears of the vertebral and carotid arteries on the left side of his neck. Plaintiff 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 awarded $577,000.
- 2013, Pennsylvania: $21,500 Verdict. A woman files suit against her chiropractor and the chiropractic group claiming that he negligently performed a cervical manipulation causing injury to her neck. Plaintiff, who initially sought treatment for back pain, reported immediate and severe neck pain to her chiropractor after he performed a manipulation. He, however, failed to address her concerns. For two weeks, she repeatedly called the chiropractor and reported the excruciating neck pain. Weeks later, he performed another cervical manipulation with no relief. Plaintiff subsequently had x-rays performed which indicated an old fracture. Plaintiff was referred to an orthopedist and underwent several operative procedures and injections. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant negligently manipulated her neck, causing injury to her spine, and failed to immediately refer her to a qualified physician as soon as she reported the neck pain. Defendant denied all allegations of negligence and claimed that on the day of the cervical manipulation, Plaintiff agreed to the neck adjustment after complaining of neck pain. Defendant further alleged that the injury on the x-ray was old and not related to the adjustment. The jury found for the Plaintiff and awarded $21,500 in damages.
- 2012, New Jersey: $14,596,000 Verdict. Plaintiff, 46 years old, presents to his primary care physician with neck pain. He is referred to a chiropractor after being diagnosed with a cervical sprain. A week later, Plaintiff suffers a herniated disc at C5-6 that compressed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the check down. He files suit against the primary care physician and chiropractor claiming that both failed to correctly diagnose the seriousness of his cervical injury. He further argues that a possibly serious bulging disc should not have been manipulated by chiropractic treatment. Each defendant blamed the other. The chiropractor settled before trial for an undisclosed amount. The case proceeded to trial against the primary care physician. Plaintiff and his wife were awarded $14,596,000. The jury allocated 95% liability to the chiropractor, and 5% to the primary care physician. When the verdict was molded to reflect the allocation of negligence, the primary care physician was obligated to pay $729,800.
- Learn more about chiropractic malpractice claims and get more sample verdicts and settlements
Hiring a Malpractice Attorney for Your Case
If you have sustained an injury caused by the negligence of a chiropractor, contact us now. You need to be aware that there are certain laws that can prevent you from bringing a claim after a certain period, so it is important to act quickly. We will speak with you and determine whether you have a valid claim. Contact us at 1.800.553.8082 or online, here.