Back and neck injuries are among the most common allegations in personal injury lawsuits. Clients often seek treatment from chiropractors for these problems. But is treating with a chiropractor good for your lawsuit?
Without getting into a debate on the merits of chiropractic care from a medical standpoint, I can easily say that chiropractors are a mixed bag at best when it comes to your lawsuit. Why? Because most insurance adjusters and personal injury lawyers, including plaintiffs’ lawyers, do not have a great deal of respect for chiropractors. They are not medical doctors. The treatments they provide are expensive and administered frequently. Many chiropractors aggressively target their advertising towards accident victims. The perception of many in the legal and insurance professions is that while chiropractic treatment may provide temporary pain relief (as would, say, a nice massage), ultimately the cost of the treatment vastly exceeds the benefits provided. So, am I saying that you should never see a chiropractor? No. I am saying be smart with your medical costs and make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck.
See a Medical Doctor First
If you have suffered a back or neck injury in an accident, I strongly recommend seeing a medical doctor before you consider seeing a chiropractor. If you have a serious injury, such as a herniated disc, you may not want a chiropractor “adjusting” your spine until you hear from a medical doctor that it is safe to do so. If you require surgery, your medical doctor can give you a referral to a specialist. If you are in pain, a medical doctor can give you a prescription for the appropriate medication (chiropractors cannot prescribe medication). From a lawsuit perspective, it looks much better if you go to a family doctor first, rather than immediately seeking a chiropractor. True or not, it is a widely held belief in the personal injury field that people who are really hurt go to medical doctors and people who just want money go to chiropractors. See a medical doctor first. If you are cleared to see a chiropractor, you can decide after that if chiropractic care is right for you.
The Truth About Soft Tissue Cases
In most personal injury cases involving back and neck pain, the pain will be caused by damage to the soft tissues around the spinal column (muscles and tendons), and not due to herniated discs or fractured vertebrae. These soft tissue cases will be the ones most likely to involve a chiropractor, as medical doctors will most often only be able to treat them with anti-inflammatory and narcotic pain medications. Because long-term use of narcotic pain medication has too many downsides to list, many people seek alternative treatments — such as chiropractic care.
The problem with most soft tissue cases is that they are often not worth very much. While the pain you feel from your soft tissue injury can be intense, and sometimes permanent, there are no sophisticated tests, like MRIs or CT scans, that can prove the existence, much less the degree, of your soft tissue injury. Without the objective evidence provided by these types of scans to back up your claim, your subjective complaints will often be the only proof of how badly you are hurt. Subjective complaints by a plaintiff without hard medical evidence are usually not well received by either insurance adjusters or juries. In these types of cases, the chiropractor can be both your best friend and worst enemy.
The Balancing Act of the Chiropractor in Soft Tissue Cases
When you have a soft tissue injury case, you must pay special attention to how much you will owe your medical providers (and health insurance to the extent that it has paid for accident-related injuries) when it is over. You will need your attorney’s help. You must pay particular attention to chiropractic care, mainly because its costs add up rather quickly. Most chiropractors will want to treat you several times per week. This will likely go on for several months before he is willing to say whether you are at maximum medical improvement, or MMI. It is important for you to be at MMI before settling your case.
Knowing that you may need treatment for several months before your case is in a position to potentially settle, you have to ask yourself if you need as many treatments as your chiropractor is suggesting (i.e., could you go 1 or 2 times per week instead of 4?). Honestly evaluate whether the treatment is making you feel better. Discuss with the chiropractor how many treatments he expects you to need, and do the math on how much that will cost.
Consistency of treatment is important to a soft tissue injury plaintiff. You don’t want to go for any extended period of time without receiving any treatment at all. However, overtreating is almost as much a risk to your case as undertreating. If you accumulate more medical bills than your case is worth, you could wind up walking away with no money in your pocket, or worse — still owing money to your medical providers.
Ultimately, you must balance the cost of your chiropractic care against the benefit it provides to your health and your lawsuit. Ask your lawyer to keep an eye on your medical bills (he will be routinely requesting them anyway) and let you know if he thinks you’re overtreating. Let him know that you’re not asking for medical advice. You just want to know when he thinks that the cost of your medical care will exceed the fair value for your case.
A Kind Word About Chiropractors
I’ve been kind of rough on chiropractors in this article, so I will try to finish on a positive note. In my experience, more often than not, chiropractors benefit the lawsuits of soft tissue plaintiffs. They seem to take soft tissue claims more seriously than medical doctors, which makes them more vocal advocates for plaintiffs. What they may lack in credibility with insurance adjusters and juries, they can often make up for with enthusiasm — they seem to be true believers in your pain. They can often give the jury a scientific reason for believing that your soft tissue “whiplash” injury is both real and permanent. Even if the jury is skeptical of chiropractors, they will be more likely to believe your subjective complaints of pain with a chiropractor backing you up than if you were to go to trial with no medical expert at all.
So, should you see a chiropractor? If you have a soft tissue injury case and you see a medical doctor first, sure. Try it out. If the chiropractor makes you feel better, continue to see him. However, keep an eye on those medical bills!