Can chiropractors be liable for medical malpractice?

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Chiropractic care can help reduce pain and improve quality of life when done correctly. However, mistakes in chiropractic care can result in injuries that may form the basis of a medical malpractice claim. Chiropractic malpractice

About Chiropractic Malpractice

A chiropractor treats misalignments of the joints through targeted manipulation. Chiropractic care is considered a type of alternative medicine and is often sought as an alternative to drugs or surgery. A chiropractor must have an undergraduate degree in an approved area before completing a four-year doctorate degree in chiropractic care. A license is also required for the state in which the chiropractor wants to practice.

Some of the ailments commonly helped by chiropractic care include back pain, whiplash, osteoarthritis, athletic injuries, and fibromyalgia. However, improperly performed adjustments on a patient can result in a range of painful symptoms that affect one's ability to perform the activities of daily living. For example:

  • Vertigo
  • Frequent headaches
  • Worsening of chronic pain
  • Facial paralysis
  • Bladder paralysis
  • Bowel paralysis
  • Pinched arteries
  • Nerve damage
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Disc herniation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stroke

Cervical neck manipulation or cracking the neck is thought to be the riskiest procedure for a chiropractor to perform. However, adverse effects can be experienced with any type of adjustment.

A poor outcome does not necessarily mean malpractice has occurred. To meet the legal standard, the chiropractor needs to have provided negligent care. Examples of mistakes that could form the basis of a chiropractic malpractice claim include:

  • Ignoring risk factors that indicate a particular treatment is not safe for a patient, such as performing spinal manipulation on someone with osteoarthritis or a patient taking blood thinning medication
  • Performing procedures not authorized by one's professional license
  • Failing to obtain informed consent for treatment
  • Neglecting to refer a patient for specialized medical treatment when symptoms indicate a condition not helped by chiropractic care

Proving Malpractice

To have a valid malpractice claim, you must be able to establish four key elements:

  • The existence of a doctor-patient relationship
  • A deviation from the standard of care that constitutes negligence
  • Injuries resulting from the negligent care
  • Specific damages that resulted from the injuries

One common difficulty in proving chiropractic malpractice is that you must be able to establish your symptoms are caused by the chiropractor's actions. In many cases, poor chiropractic care worsens a preexisting condition or causes symptoms that overlap with many ailments that could be attributed to other factors. You will likely need to rely on expert testimony to pinpoint the cause of your injury.

Another challenge in proving a chiropractic malpractice claim is that a chiropractor's work is judged based on the standard of what a reasonably competent chiropractor would do in the same circumstances. A chiropractor does not have the specialized training of a primary care physician, so he can't be expected to diagnose medical conditions that are outside the realm of what a chiropractor normally sees. This is why it's recommended that you seek a diagnosis from a primary care physician before beginning chiropractic care to treat a specific ailment.

Available Compensation

A medical malpractice claim for chiropractic care can include:

  • Medical expenses related to treating the symptoms or injury caused by your chiropractor
  • Anticipated future medical needs, if you've been left permanently disabled
  • Lost wages, if your chiropractic injury kept you from working
  • Loss of future earning potential, if your injury will prevent you from working in the future
  • Pain and suffering

Chiropractors, like other medical professionals, generally carry malpractice insurance to provide benefits to patients who have suffered harm due to negligent care.

The Value of Experienced Legal Representation

Malpractice law is very complex, and insurance companies are typically in no hurry to admit liability for your injuries. To protect yourself, it's vital that you seek skilled legal representation. An attorney can assess the true value of your case, line up evidence to support your claim, and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.

Neblett, Beard & Arsenault has extensive experience assisting Louisiana residents in obtaining the malpractice compensation they deserve. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.588.6303 today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.