A New Jersey appeals court found that the New Jersey Chiropractic Board Act and the New Jersey Administrative Code limits chiropracters to maneuvers designed to treat only the spine. In a recent case, Bedford v. Riello, 2007 WL 135521 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.), two New Jersey chiropractors adjusted a woman’s painful knee and, according to the patient’s medical malpractice claims, caused a torn meniscus that required arthroscopic surgery. The patient’s medical malpractice claims were based partly upon the patient’s argument that the Chiropractic Board Act and the New Jersey Administrative Code prohibit chiropractors from adjusting a knee. The Trial Court did not agree with the patient’s theories and refused to allow the patient’s expert medical witnesses offer opinions that the chiropractors’ manipulation of the patient’s knee were outside the boundaries of allowable chiropractic activites in New Jersey. The experts testifying for the patient were allowed to testify that the chiropractors failed to look for a subluxation (joint abnormality) before doing the adjustment and perfomed the adjustment so “vigorously” so as to tear a ligament in the patient’s knee. The jury found against the plaintiff and she appealed the Trial Court’s rejection of her argument that all chiropractors are prohibited from adjusting a knee.
The patient won her appeal and is now permitted a new trial. The appeals court held that the Trial Court erred in its interpretation of the law. The appeals court ruled that in the patient’s new trial, the jury would be instructed that an adjustment of a knee by a chiropractor is beyond the boundaries of permissable chiropractic practice in New Jersey such that doing a knee manipulation could be viewed as evidence of negligence. In reaching its decision, the appeals court recognized that chiropractors in New Jersey are permitted to move a patient’s arm or leg to help in adjusting the spine, but since the manipulation in this case was of the leg to address a complaint in the leg, rather than the spine, the adjustment of the knee in this case was beyond the bounds of the chiropractors’ scope of practice.
This case is an example of two important principles in handling a medical malpractice case: (1) legal rulings made prior to trial are often crucial to the outcome of a case and (2) medical malpractice cases require a willingness by the patient’s lawyer to “fight to the end. When I represent patients, I prepare cases thoroughly and with attention to detail and I stand behind my client’s rights and fight for them from start to finish.