In its opinion filed on February 17, 2017, the Supreme Court of Alabama (“Alabama Supreme Court”) held that a medical malpractice plaintiff who alleged that she suffered injury as a result of a cold pack applied to her leg at the defendant chiropractor’s office did not need to provide expert testimony with regard to causation or injury. The Alabama Supreme Court thus found that the trial court had erred when it entered summary judgment for the Alabama medical malpractice defendants because the plaintiff had not designated an expert witness as required under the Alabama Medical Liability Act (“the AMLA”), § 6-5-480 et seq. and § 6-5-540 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, to testify that the defendant chiropractor breached his duty of care in treating the plaintiff.
The Plaintiff’s Alleged Facts
Beginning in June 2012, the plaintiff was being treated by the defendant chiropractor for injuries to her knee, shoulder, and lower back. The treatment for her knee injury included applying a cold pack to her knee, which treatment she received on several occasions during June 2012.
On July 9, 2012, the defendant’s assistant retrieved a cold pack from the refrigerator and placed it directly on the plaintiff’s knee (on previous occasions, the cold pack had been sitting out on a table when the plaintiff arrived and was later placed on her knee).
The plaintiff noticed that the cold pack applied during the July 9 treatment was harder than the cold packs that had been applied to her knee during previous appointments (the plaintiff’s appointment on July 9 was in the morning, and the chiropractic center had been closed the previous seven days). The plaintiff felt heat when the cold pack was removed from her knee (during previous treatments, the plaintiff’s knee felt cold when the cold pack was removed). A few hours later, the plaintiff developed blisters on her knee where the cold pack had been. Scars later developed on the plaintiff’s knee where the cold pack had been.
On July 7, 2014, the plaintiff sued the defendants for medical malpractice arising out of the application of the cold pack to her knee. The defendant chiropractor subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment supported by his own affidavit in which he contended that he had not breached the standard of care in treating the plaintiff and that the plaintiff’s alleged injuries were not due to his medical negligence. The defendant further argued that the plaintiff had failed to present testimony from a similarly situated expert witness because the plaintiff had not designated an expert witness as required under the AMLA.
The plaintiff argued that expert testimony is not required in this case to establish either the standard of care or the causal connection between the defendant’s acts and her injuries because there is an exception to the rule requiring expert testimony in a case where want of skill or lack of care is so apparent as to be understood by a layman, and requires only common knowledge and experience to understand it.
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmovant for summary judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court stated that the evidence indicates that the cold pack had been in the refrigerator for seven days, that it had not been thawed when the plaintiff arrived for her appointment, and that it was hard on the day of her treatment in contrast to her treatment on other visits. The plaintiff felt heat when the cold pack was removed from her knee. The plaintiff developed blisters on her knee following the treatment and later scarring. The Alabama Supreme Court stated that it was not necessary for the plaintiff to present independent expert testimony where her medical malpractice case requires only common knowledge and experience to understand what is akin to frostbite.
The Alabama Supreme Court held, “In the instant case, the procuring and application of the cold pack was within the exclusive control of the defendants, and no evidence was presented indicating that [the plaintiff] contributed to her injuries. Blistering and subsequent scarring does not ordinarily occur following the application of a cold pack, absent negligence. The causative relationship between [the plaintiff’s] injury and the defendants’ acts are such that it can be readily understood, to the extent that a layperson can reliably determine the issue of causation without independent expert testimony to assist in that determination.”
Source Collins v. Herring Chiropractic Center, LLC, 1151173.
If a chiropractor in Alabama or in your U.S. state caused you to suffer serious injuries, you should promptly seek the advice of a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your chiropractor malpractice claim for you and file a chiropractic claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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