In a recent ruling, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in support of a patient’s jury verdict against a chiropractor. The case is Felton v. Lovett, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2012).
In Felton, the patient had sought treatment for neck pain from a chiropractor. After two treatments did not provide relief, the chiropractor utilized a more forceful manipulation. That immediately produced symptoms that included blurred vision and nausea, so the patient was rushed to the hospital. Doctors there determined that the patient had suffered a stroke when an artery was dissected.
A jury determined that the chiropractor had not manipulated the patient negligently. But it found that he had failed to warn the patient about the risk. In fact, the risk of vertebral artery dissection was well known to the chiropractor, who had read about the matter shortly before the manipulation and who had previously treated a patient who suffered from it. The jury found that the information about the risk was important to enable the patient to make an informed choice about whether to undergo the treatment.
The chiropractor argued that his disclosure of risks was noy governed by the medical malpractice statute. However, the Supreme Court ruled that his conduct was controlled by the common law, and that under common law principles, he had failed to meet the standard of care requiring chiropractors to inform patients of inherent risks. Inherent risks are those which exist in and are inseparable from the procedure itself. Notably, they do not include the risk of malpractice; inherent risks are “directly related to the treatment and occur without negligence.”