Chiropractic Malpractice: Negligence That Hurts
Many decades ago, going to a chiropractor was less common than it is now. Since then, however, chiropractic care has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the number of insurance companies that pay at least partially for visits. Good chiropractic care has been shown to reduce some types of pain and can provide real benefits to patients. However, bad chiropractic care can veer into malpractice behavior that can seriously injure a patient.
What is Chiropractic Medicine?
A chiropractor does not have an M.D. (medical doctor) degree. They often put the letters D.C. after their names, which stands for Doctor of Chiropractic. But a D.C. degree is not the same as an M.D. degree and does not require the same schooling. Chiropractic medicine focuses on the spine and the nervous system. Chiropractors manipulate bone and tissue in order to bring everything in the body back into alignment and wholeness. As such, they cannot write prescriptions for medication.
In Maryland, chiropractors are not required to carry malpractice insurance. However, that fact does not prevent you from bringing a malpractice claim. Chiropractic malpractice occurs when a doctor fails to provide the accepted standard of care for chiropractic medicine and the patient becomes harmed through negligent actions.
What Types of Chiropractor Malpractice are Likely?
While chiropractic injuries can be minor, sometimes negligence can cause great harm. Examples of chiropractic injuries that might be considered malpractice are:
Neck and back injuries from incorrect adjustments or spinal manipulations. Some of the less severe injuries that result from inappropriate manipulations can produce frequent headaches, numbness and tingling, and vertigo. However, spinal manipulations or adjustments that more seriously injure the patient can cause:
- Broken ribs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Herniated disks
- Nerve damage or pinched nerves
- Pinched arteries
- Spinal stenosis
- Facial paralysis
- Other paralysis
- Pregnant patients going into labor early.
Prolonged pain in the neck, lower back, and sciatic area can also mean that spinal manipulation caused some harm.
Stroke from chiropractic manipulations. It is possible that neck manipulations done too aggressively can damage the arteries that bring blood to the brain. When this situation occurs, a stroke can result. Some experts think that the incidence of chiropractic-induced stroke is higher than is generally reported because few medical doctors ask if the patient recently underwent chiropractic adjustments. In one recent situation, a 34-year-old model, Katie May, died from a stroke after her chiropractic visit. The family is bringing a wrongful death case because it is suspected that her carotid artery was damaged.
Not diagnosing a medical condition needing immediate care. Any medical practitioner, including a chiropractor, has a duty to determine via the diagnostic process when a patient needs urgent care that they themselves cannot provide. Examples of such a situation include a patient with symptoms that could easily indicate severe heart disease or impending stroke. Instead of recognizing the symptoms, the chiropractor prescribes a series of manipulation sessions. Should the patient progress to a heart attack or a stroke, the chiropractor could be found liable for malpractice because they did not refer the patient to the appropriate medical practitioner.
Not obtaining informed consent from the patient. Chiropractic medicine is not without risks. While such complications are not common, you could experience a herniated disk or a worsening of an existing herniation; a compression of the lower spinal nerves (known as cauda equina syndrome); or a stroke. If you were not fully informed of the risks and then suffered a complication, the chiropractor could be liable for malpractice. If any pain you experience becomes worse while under chiropractic care, you might want to explore whether you are experiencing a complication.
It can be wise not to seek chiropractic care if you suffer from:
- Spinal cancer
- Spinal instability
- Increased risk of stroke
- Severe osteoporosis
- Tingling, numbness, or a loss of strength in a limb, as these symptoms can indicate a serious condition.
If you suddenly suffer a severe headache, you could be experiencing a stroke or cerebral hemorrhage. In this case, it’s wise to seek immediate medical care, not call your chiropractor.
Bringing a Chiropractic Malpractice Lawsuit
Generally, the same rules apply to chiropractic malpractice suits as to medical malpractice suits: the chiropractor must have failed to provide care that matches the accepted standard, and the failure to do so must demonstrate negligence. Also, the statute of limitations must be met. In Maryland, you must bring a malpractice case within three years of the date of the discovery of the injury, or within five years from the injury’s occurrence, whichever is earlier.
Suing a doctor of chiropractic for malpractice, like any other malpractice case, can be exceedingly complicated. If the case is not brought according to the rules, it can be tossed out. It is crucial to your success that you locate an experienced chiropractic malpractice attorney who best suits your circumstances.
A Skilled and Caring Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You
An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to listen to the facts of your case, conduct a thorough investigation, and help you devise a legal strategy for obtaining compensation for your injuries. Due to the involvement of insurance companies and defendants who can afford a strong legal team, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with an attorney who has extensive experience with the ins and outs of medical malpractice or chiropractic malpractice. Not every malpractice claim will hold up in court. However, the only way to determine this is through a thorough case review.
If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of what you believe to be medical or chiropractic malpractice, contact the law offices of Steven H. Heisler today for a free initial consultation. To find out whether you have a case, call 1-410-625-4878, or use our online contact form.