Chiropractic malpractice (negligence) can give rise to substantial legal claims requiring a good lawyer. For the most part most chiropractors, like most physicians, are good and decent people who care about their patients and carefully follow the mantra to “do no harm.” Unfortunately, many chiropractic clinics come under pressure from the need to increase patient volume averages (“PVA”). In effect this is putting profits over people, and when chiropractic malpractice (negligence) happens you will need to find an experienced chiropractic malpractice lawyer to help you understand how to properly work up and present the claim to maximize the chances for a successful claim or result.
Cervical neck adjustments using “diversified” technique can be helpful when done properly (slightly beyond the range of motion). Think massage, or yoga – motions stretching the anatomy. However, the upper cervical spine is very anatomically complex and stretching arteries can be deadly. There are two vertebral arteries and two carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain. The vertebral arteries especially make a very tight turn through the upper cervical vertebrae and upon rotation (or more specifically, over-rotation) of the neck can be stretched and damaged. Stretching a rubber band is not a bad thing. Stretching an artery can tear the intimal lining of the artery, disrupting the blood flow, causing it to pool and clot and then those clots (emboli) can break free and lodge in the brain where they can result in stroke (infarct – or cell death – from lack of blood flow) or death. While these types of injuries have been known to occur spontaneously, this serious injury has also been known to be a risk of chiropractic adjustment and specifically over-adjustment of the neck. There is a long-standing dispute between neurologists and chiropractors about the frequency and cause of these strokes. Neurologists and vascular surgeons often suggest the literature points to a far more frequent injury following chiropractic manipulation and believe that even these statistics are likely under-reported. A good chiropractic malpractice lawyer knows these statistics and is prepared to debunk much of the “science” you will face from the defense.
The chiropractic industry believes that statistics are substantially less and therefore defend their care as entirely safe. Your chiropractic malpractice lawyer should be familiar with these statistics and able to discuss them with you.
Sometimes the warning signs are present prior the adjustment and the chiropractor simply misses the fact that the patient is contra-indicated for cervical chiropractic adjustment using the diversified technique. Sometimes the chiropractor applies too much force in applying an otherwise proper technique for the patient presenting with a particular set of symptoms. Sometimes the chiropractor simply fails to inform the patient that there are serious risks of this procedure in which case the patient may have opted for another, less-invasive procedure had they known the downside. This is called the patient’s right to informed consent. Finally, sometimes the stroke truly was in progress before the chiropractor adjusted the patient, there were no contra-indications and therefore the stroke was a risk of the procedure (provided the patient was provided with informed consent), and thus no malpractice was involved. A small portion of the population does spontaneously experience vertebral and carotid artery dissections, but they are very rare. This is how most chiropractic defense lawyers defend these claims. However, many strokes or death following chiropractic adjustment were traumatically caused by the neck manipulation (or improper manipulation). Your chiropractic malpractice lawyer should be able to assess your case free of charge and give you an opinion about whether the care was likely negligent (malpractice) or simply an unfortunate consequence and unforeseeable risk of the procedure.
A good chiropractic malpractice lawyer can and should walk you and your family through this process. Our law firm has handled chiropractic negligence and malpractice cases with excellent results in the seven figures. While these cases are rare, and while individual results vary depending on the facts of each case, there is no question that chiropractic strokes and vertebral and carotid artery dissections are often extremely devastating injuries to a family and can be permanent. I am happy to speak with you free of charge if you have suffered a chiropractic stroke and would like to discuss your options and find out whether the injury was preventable or not.
My very best,
James J. Holland – Mercer Island Office