Do Chiropractors Get Sued? 

Yes, And It Can Devastate Your Practice

March 13, 2023

Reading time: 4 minutes

Chiropractors do get sued. Learn how to protect yourself if it happens to you. Plus, get practical tips for your practice from our Advisory Board member — and seasoned chiropractor — Dr. Clarke.

Key Concepts

  • You can be sued even when you do nothing wrong
  • 8 tips for avoiding malpractice risks
  • Good malpractice insurance means peace of mind

Could your chiropractic practice afford to pay over $14M to settle a lawsuit? That’s how much a Florida jury awarded a man who claimed his chiropractor performed unnecessary procedures that caused spinal nerve damage and aggravated his pre-existing lower back condition.

Naysayers may note that verdicts in the patient’s favor are rare, but patient verdicts do happen — and they can be costly. These types of cases can involve spinal manipulation, but there may also be cases of alleged neurological injury, disc herniation, stroke, and rib fractures. Another frequent allegation is “overaggressive manipulation.” 

It Won’t Happen to You…Or Will It?

“Chiropractic is one of the safest health professions out there,” said Dr. Steven Clarke, former president of the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors, one of the largest state associations in the country with approximately 2000 members. “We don’t use drugs or perform surgery, there are no big diagnostics being done, and we’re not seeing life threatening conditions.”

But that’s not to say that chiropractic malpractice lawsuits don’t happen.

“It’s an absolute must to have proper malpractice insurance because, like other professions, there is always the possibility of being sued,” cautioned Clarke. 

In fact, possessing malpractice insurance is now mandated in most states. Chiropractors are commonly sued for one of two reasons: one, failure to diagnose a medical condition that needs immediate care, and two, harm to the patient from the chiropractic treatment itself. Both are difficult to prove, but decisions that award damages to the patient can be devastating to your practice.

“If a patient sues you and wins, there’s a chance that everything you’ve worked hard for could be lost,” Clarke noted. “And think about this. If you don’t have malpractice insurance or don’t carry enough, the lawyers could go after your personal assets.” 

It May Not Matter If You’ve Done Nothing Wrong

Since 2014, Clarke has been a member of the Chiropractic Advisory Board for ChiroPreferred — backed by MedPro Group, the largest and highest rated provider of malpractice insurance in the United States. In his role, he’s a serious follower of industry trends, laws, and other issues facing the chiropractic profession. Bottom line is, he’s pretty much seen it all when it comes to the challenges chiropractors encounter as business owners. Clearly the answer to “do chiropractors get sued?” is a resounding “yes.”

“I know chiropractors who have co-treated with neurosurgeons or orthopedic specialists and when a patient files a malpractice lawsuit, everyone involved is named,” Clarke shared. “The chiropractor did nothing wrong, they simply followed the appropriate standard of care, but they are now dealing with a lawsuit. Bottom line is, you never know if you’ll need it, but you’ll be glad you have it when you’re on the receiving end of a lawsuit.”

The good news is a typical malpractice policy premium costs about the same as the average car insurance premium.

“It’s much more affordable than similar insurance for surgeons and physicians,” noted Clarke. “What’s key though is choosing the best policy, from a financially strong company, to get you the most coverage.”

Documenting Every Patient’s Care Matters

Hopefully, you will never be sued for negligent or intentional wrongful acts by a patient. Still, it’s prudent to back up everything you say or do with a patient with proper documentation.

Thorough documentation of patient interactions is an important defense tool if you’re ever named in a lawsuit.

Clarke’s top tips include the following:

  1. Always discuss risks and benefits of any treatment with your patients before starting treatment.  Allow the patient an opportunity to ask questions.
  2. Manage expectations of what you can and cannot treat – if your professional opinion is to refer them elsewhere, do so.
  3. Insist on imaging; either recent images from other doctors or insist that your patient have new images taken, if medically necessary.
  4. If your patient is in too much pain to wait for pre-authorization for imaging, recommend they go to the emergency room for immediate care.
  5. Collect available records from any doctors that your patient has seen for the condition.
  6. Get a full and thorough patient history in writing before treating.
  7. Have every patient sign an informed consent form prior to treating.
  8. Place any and all notes, histories, imaging, etc. from every patient into a secure digital file.

Malpractice Insurance Equals Peace of Mind for You and Your Practice

Don’t wait until you receive a lawsuit to evaluate your malpractice coverage. Chiropractors do get sued, so be ready. Make sure you’re protected by allowing ChiroPreferred the privilege of helping you secure the best coverage for you and your chiropractic business.

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This document should not be construed as medical or legal advice and should not be construed as rules or establishing a standard of care. Because the facts applicable to your situation may vary, or the laws applicable in your jurisdiction may differ, please contact your attorney or other professional advisors if you have any questions related to your legal or medical obligations or rights, state or federal laws, contract interpretation, or other legal questions.

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