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New York Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuit Leads to Court’s Decision on Appropriate Use of Medical Expert Testimony

People often seek chiropractic treatment to help with chronic neck or back pain. Chiropractors are credentialed differently from medical doctors and are regulated by a different New York licensing body, but they are still required to perform their treatments under a standard of care. The appeals court in a New York spinal cord injury case was asked to consider whether the expert witnesses in a chiropractic malpractice lawsuit had to have chiropractic expertise, or if more general medical knowledge would be sufficient.

The plaintiff hired the defendant, a chiropractor, to help alleviate chronic neck and back pain, along with headaches. After developing a treatment plan, the plaintiff visited the defendant for treatment 77 times. The treatment typically involved three spinal adjustments. Later, the plaintiff came into the defendant’s office for treatment after she returned from a jet skiing vacation. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant manipulated her spine in a violent or uncomfortable way, and she stopped attending treatments with the defendant. She began experiencing numbness, nausea, pain, and tingling and was admitted to a hospital shortly thereafter. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant caused her to experience trauma to the discs in her back and that she had to undergo back surgery as a result.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging chiropractic malpractice against the defendant. When the defendant moved for summary judgment, it was supported with affidavits from an orthopedic surgeon and a radiologist. Both experts testified that the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the defendant’s treatments. However, the trial court did not grant the defendant’s summary judgment motion because the experts did not demonstrate that they were qualified to opine on matters of chiropractic treatment.

New York law requires that doctors offering testimony in medical, dental, chiropractic, or any other specialty malpractice actions must establish their credentials in order for their expert testimony to be considered as admissible evidence. This can be established by either being a specialist in one of the previously mentioned fields, or by possessing the skill, training, education, knowledge, or experience that would make them reliable or allow for the assumption that their opinion was reliable. If a physician offers an expert opinion outside of his or her specialization, a foundation must be laid tending to support the reliability of the opinion rendered.

The appeals court ruled that on the issue of standard of care, the two experts would not be able to offer their opinions because neither physician was familiar with the standard of chiropractic practice. However, as to the issue of causation, the court reached a different conclusion. The orthopedic surgeon testified that the injuries to the plaintiff were preexisting and degenerative, which was premised upon his expertise as an orthopedic surgeon. The court reasoned that in this case, the expert opinion as it related to causation was based upon a subject within the expert’s specialty. It was acceptable for this expert to testify as to causation, and there was no additional legal requirement that he also be required to testify as to the standard of care.

The spinal cord injury attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP understand the life-changing consequences that a traumatic spinal cord injury can have on you or your loved ones. It is important that you speak with a Syracuse attorney about your legal rights, and you could be entitled to significant financial compensation. Call us at (315) 479-9000 or get in touch online today.

More Blog Posts:

Medical Malpractice Claim Denied for New York Woman with Surgical Camera Lodged in Intestines, Syracuse Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 22, 2017

Pathology Malpractice Claim in New York Illustrates Importance of Expert Witness Testimony, Syracuse Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 8, 2017

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