At Polaris Lawyers we commonly receive enquires from people who have suffered loss or injury after treatment from a chiropractor. In this article, we look at the options to sue a chiropractor for medical negligence or malpractice.
Chiropractors use their hands to treat bone, joint and muscle disorders. They believe that with manipulation, the body’s nervous system will begin to run more smoothly and enable the body to heal naturally.
Overblown claims made by some chiropractors have been widely publicised, with some practitioners falsely claiming that manipulation can cure everything from cancer to a range of health issues with infants.
Despite this, chiropractic treatment remains popular in Australia, with over 4,500 chiropractors providing treatment to up to 15% of Australians in a 12-month period. A 2013 study noted that chiropractors were the 5th most visited health professional in Australia.
Injuries caused by chiropractic negligence
There are a number of ways that chiropractic treatment can lead to loss or injury. Neck manipulation is particularly dangerous and can lead to a number of catastrophic consequences. Here is a short list of the most common chiropractic injuries that we see.
Spinal disc injuries
Serious disc injuries associated with spinal adjustment and manipulation can include:
- c prolapse or herniation in a disc in the spine, or a worsening of an existing disc herniation;
- compression of nerves in the lower spinal column.
Strokes can occur following extreme rotation of the head. Sudden rotations can cause an artery to the brain to rupture or become blocked by a clot as a result of being stretched.
While chiropractors may tell you (if you ask them) that the risk of a stroke is small, there have been few studies into the frequency of strokes following chiropractic care.
Aggravation of injuries caused at work or in a car accident
At Polaris, we commonly receive enquiries from people who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident or at workplace injury, whose injuries are subsequently made worse by chiropractic or other physical treatment.
The law in this area is complex and each case needs to be looked at very closely to ensure that a person is legally covered after physical treatment which is paid for by a Workers Compensation Insurer or a road accident insurer such as the TAC.
Delays in diagnosis and referral to specialists
With some chiropractors claiming that they can cure “every life threatening illness” including cancer and heart disease, one of the biggest dangers associated with chiropractic and other alternative therapies is that patients are not appropriately referred for the specialist treatment that they need, in order to get treatment which is known to be clinically effective.
For example, getting treatment from a chiropractor instead of an oncologist can result in delay in treatment of cancer which can have devastating impacts on your prognosis and long-term outcomes.
What does the law say about negligence by a chiropractor?
Medical negligence claims generally centre around the failure to deliver reasonable medical practice and causing a new or aggravated injury or death as a result. For instance, see Maguire v McGroder  NSWSC 122.
You are equally entitled to reasonable treatment from chiropractors as you are from your GP, your hospital or any other health provider.
In particular, chiropractors have a legal duty to:
- inform you of the treatment that they plan to perform;
- advise you of the risks and potential complications of the treatment;
- have a reasonable clinical basis for offering the treatment;
- provide treatment to a reasonable standard; and
- refer you to other specialists as appropriate.
Medical negligence claims for compensation
If you have suffered loss or injury, or an exacerbation of a previous injury as a result of chiropractic treatment, you could be entitled to seek medical negligence compensation.
It is important to understand that you may still have a claim for compensation, even if you consented to the treatment, or the risks of the treatment were explained to you.
Compensation claims against medical practitioners and other health professionals including chiropractors can include benefits for medical expenses, past and future care, home modifications, pain and suffering and loss of income.