Because of the areas that chiropractors commonly treat, malpractice in the field constitutes a significant issue. If you suffer from chiropractic malpractice, you could suffer from long-term or permanent disabilities as a result.
If a chiropractor’s negligence caused injuries that led to long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover damages in the form of financial compensation.
Standard of Care
As with any other medical professional, a chiropractor has to meet the medical standard of care. The chiropractic profession has its own standard of care, which holds chiropractors responsible for injuries at a higher level than a non-chiropractor.
The standard of care does require competency in the field. The standard of care looks at the chiropractor’s knowledge at the time of treatment. For example, if you have osteoporosis and do not tell your chiropractor, you cannot hold the chiropractor responsible for injuries resulting from the treatment.
Suing a Chiropractor
You can sue a chiropractor if you believe his or her actions and/or inactions constituted negligence. As with other professionals, a chiropractor must provide services based on accepted professional standards. If your injuries stem from the actions and/or inactions of a chiropractor, you can sue based on medical malpractice and/or general negligence.
People often visit chiropractors for spinal adjustments to correct a misaligned spine or relieve the pressure that causes pain.
However, an incompetent chiropractor could cause significant injuries, including but not limited to:
- Broken ribs
- Nerve damages, including sciatica
- Herniated discs
- Slipped discs
- Facial paralysis
- Neck pain
- Premature delivery in pregnant women
- Stroke if the chiropractor’s manipulations rupture or block arteries to the brain
Chiropractor negligence includes incompetence, failure to diagnose, and lack of informed consent. Failure to diagnose happens when the chiropractor does not diagnose what caused your back pain. For example, you might have blocked arteries or cancer. While the chiropractor does not have to treat the underlying issues, he or she should know what caused the back pain and tell you so that you can seek appropriate treatment. If a chiropractor does not reveal the cause of your back pain and treats you, he or she could cause significant damage.
Before a chiropractor starts treating you, he or she must disclose all of the risks associated with the treatment. This allows you to make an informed decision. If the chiropractor does not inform you of all of the risks, he or she may bear responsibility for your injuries.
If a chiropractor provides substandard treatment or otherwise does not follow the accepted standard of care, the doctor could hold responsibility for your injuries. Negligent manipulation of your body happens if the chiropractor’s treatment makes an existing injury worse or causes new injuries, including neck damage, neurological damage, herniated discs, sciatica, lumbar pain, and broken ribs.
As for chiropractic-induced strokes, people often don’t realize that chiropractic treatment can cause a stroke, especially if the stroke happens weeks after treatment. If a chiropractor worked on you, especially your neck, have doctors try to determine the reason for the stroke.
Building Your Case
Start building your case as soon as you suspect that your chiropractor caused additional injuries or exacerbated existing injuries. The actions you take can significantly help a chiropractic malpractice lawyer help you get compensation to cover the full cost of your injuries.
Some of the items that you can do to help build your case include:
- Create a list of anyone who treated you. Include all names and contact information.
- Obtain your medical records.
- Obtain your chiropractor records, including those from chiropractors you saw prior to the chiropractor you believe caused your injuries.
- Create a written narrative of the treatment you received and what risks, if any, your chiropractor discussed with you.
- Medical bills for treatments related to the injuries you believe you suffered at the hands of a chiropractor.
- Create a summary of your current health status. Include the location of the pain, the severity of the pain, and any other issues that you feel relate to the issue.
If you have difficulty collecting this information, your personal injury attorney can help you obtain it.
Settlement or Litigation?
Whether you settle or go right to litigation depends on your situation. Since settling costs less, most people try to settle before going to litigation. However, if the chiropractor’s insurance company refuses to pay a fair and reasonable settlement, you can move to litigation. Your medical malpractice attorney will discuss these options with you when helping to determine the best strategy for your case.
Settling for Less
Some people just want to get this process over with, so they can pay their medical expenses and get on with their lives. However, settling for an amount just because you want to end this process is often a mistake. The complexity of back and neck injuries could mean that you might have trouble down the road. Your attorney will work with a team of medical professionals that will help determine whether your injuries will cause long-term or permanent disabilities and will adjust the settlement offer accordingly.
For example, suppose Dr. X’s insurance company decides your case is worth only $50,000, and you accept that offer a month after the initial injury. In that case, you cannot go back for more money down the road if your condition worsens or you sustain additional, related injuries.
Recoverable Damages in Chiropractic Malpractice Lawsuits
You may recover two types of damages if you can prove a chiropractor’s negligence caused your injuries and/or long-term or permanent disabilities: (1) compensatory damages and (2) punitive damages. Compensatory damages include economic damages and non-economic damages.
Courts order defendants to pay economic damages in an attempt to make injured individuals whole again. Economic damages, also known as special damages, have a monetary value; that means that someone, whether you or an insurance company, pays out of pocket for these damages. Special damages include:
You can recover compensation for medical expenses related to your chiropractic injury from the time you suffer the injury through the time you settle or win a trial award. If your doctors expect your injuries to lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, you could also recover future medical expenses. Your attorney will work with a team of professionals to determine an estimate of your future medical expenses.
Medical expenses include doctor’s appointments, surgeries, follow-up appointments, ambulatory aids, prescriptions, and therapy appointments. You could also recover the costs of converting your vehicle to hand controls and making your home accessible by adding ramps, grab bars, and widening doors.
Some injuries could preclude you from working. You could recover lost wages for the time that you cannot work from the time of the injury through the time you settle or win a trial award. If doctors expect your injuries to cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you could also recover lost earning capacity.
Your attorney and others will look at your current age, the extent of your injuries, and your retirement age to determine how much money you will likely miss out on because your disabilities prevent you from working. If your injuries allow you to work at a different type of job that does not pay as well as the previously held job, you could still recover partial lost earning capacity.
In some cases, a chiropractor’s negligence could cause the death of a loved one. While money does not bring your loved one back, it does go a long way in reducing the financial stress that losing a loved one causes. You could recover funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses, and additional expenses, such as probate court filing fees, if you lost a loved one due to chiropractic malpractice.
Courts order defendants to pay non-economic damages in an attempt to make you whole again.
General damages, also referred to as non-economic damages, do not have a monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress. If you lost a loved one because of chiropractic negligence, you could also recover compensation for emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make life changes, such as taking prescription medications or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer take part in or enjoy events and activities with your family.
- Loss of consortium if your injuries prevent you from having a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as an arm or a leg, or loss of use of a bodily function, such as your bladder. This might happen if the chiropractor misaligns your spine and damages the nerves that control the non-working body part.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, such as grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home maintenance and repair.
While punitive damages often prove difficult to recover, the extra time required may prove worthwhile. The court only orders punitive damages if you can prove the defendant’s actions or inactions constituted gross negligence. In this case, the court might determine that a chiropractor acted grossly negligent if he or she knew the cause of your back pain but did not tell you, and the underlying condition became exacerbated with the chiropractor’s treatment.
Different states have different laws regarding how the courts handle punitive damages. Pennsylvania and Florida allow punitive damages, for example, but you, as the plaintiff, must prove that the defendant engaged in grossly negligent or intentional behavior.
Each state also has its own cap for various types of cases that involve punitive damages. Your attorney will let you know the cap if one exists.
Statute of Limitations
As soon as you suspect or learn that a chiropractor caused an injury or death or exacerbated an injury, you should contact a medical malpractice attorney. Each state has its own rules about how long you have to file a lawsuit. However, that time goes by quickly. Since you could sue a chiropractor on general grounds or for medical malpractice, the statute of limitations could vary.
Statute of Limitations for Florida
In Florida, you must file most medical malpractice and wrongful death cases within two years of the time of the incident or within two years of having discovered the incident. Florida also has the language “or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence,” which means that if a reasonable person should have known, the courts could dismiss your case if you wait too long—even if you did not determine it was the chiropractor’s fault until after the two-year time frame.
Additionally, in some cases where you can prove negligence, the statute of limitations could run for four years. Because the laws often have specific details, always check with your attorney as soon as possible, so you do not miss out on settling or filing a lawsuit against a chiropractor that injured you or caused the death of a loved one.
Statute of Limitations for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law provides injured individuals with two years from the date of their injuries to file a general wrongful death or medical malpractice action in most cases.
Before Filing a Lawsuit
Your case goes through several steps before filing a lawsuit, and those steps could take quite a bit of time—even up to two years—before your case wraps up. Even for a settlement, your attorney must gather evidence to prove that your chiropractor injured you or caused the death of your loved one. Medical expenses, death certificates, and other documents go a long way in helping prove your case.
Without the evidence, the case will mostly involve presenting your word against your chiropractor’s word. The insurance company could deny your claim unless you can show that the chiropractor most likely caused your injuries or the death of your loved one. Settling could take a few months or over a year, depending on your case’s specific facts and circumstances.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a chiropractor’s negligence, contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.