Recently, in Moreno v. Ingram a Texas appellate court considered the question of whether a chiropractor can testify on the necessity of a plaintiff’s non-chiropractic medical treatment. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence, based on injuries and vehicle damage arising out of an auto accident. Before trial, she filed affidavits about her need for medical care. The court ruled these established the cost of the treatment was reasonable, but not that the treatment was necessary. The affidavits were admitted, but the references to necessity were redacted.
At trial, the plaintiff offered her chiropractor’s testimony. The chiropractor (Dr. Starry) testified about the necessity of her treatment by a pain management physician. This included epidural steroid injections and other non-chiropractic treatment. Digital animations were shown as demonstrative exhibits.
The plaintiff and defendant both testified about the crash, but their testimony contradicted each other. The plaintiff testified she had signaled to turn left from a parking lot. She also testified that the defendant was behind her but drove around on the left, swiped, and hit her. The defendant argued she was driving on the boulevard and wasn’t in the parking lot, and that the plaintiff pulled out of the driveway and caused the crash.
A witness driving on the boulevard saw the collision. He didn’t have a connection to either of the parties, and his testimony supported the plaintiff’s. However, the defendant’s daughter was riding in her mother’s car at the time of the crash, and her testimony supported the defendant.
The jury found that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the crash. It also found damages for the plaintiff in a total of $273,372.27, including medical expenses and future physical impairment. The defendant asked for a new trial, but the trial judge denied her motion. She appealed.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the chiropractor’s testimony on non-chiropractic treatment was insufficient and too unreliable to support the jury’s findings. The plaintiff argued that the defendant had not preserved any error and more substantively argued that her chiropractor was qualified to render expert opinions not only on chiropractic care but also her medical care by doctors.
The court noted that the defendant had made multiple objections to permitting the chiropractor to testify on medical care or billing records or treatment by medical doctors. Her objection preserved her complaint on appeal. Turning to the substance of the testimony, the court noted that the defendant didn’t contest the chiropractor’s expertise to testify as to chiropractic treatment. However, the expenses for the chiropractic treatment were only $6,025. The damages for past medical expenses that were awarded were $19,347.71.
The chiropractor had been licensed in Texas for about 10 years. In Texas, a chiropractor cannot do surgical procedures, prescribe controlled substances, or use x-ray therapy. The chiropractor acknowledged he couldn’t perform epidural injections and testified he referred patients to orthopedic doctors or pain management doctors to decide whether patients needed these injections. He stated he could read and interpret MRIs, although he wasn’t licensed to do so, and his chiropractic education had included performing and interpreting x-rays. He also testified he had the same amount of schooling as a medical doctor but took more radiology and anatomy instead of “medication” courses. In this case, the chiropractor had referred the plaintiff to a pain management doctor, but he explained that he had learned about epidural injections in order to be able to refer patients to specialists.
Over the defendant’s objection, the chiropractor testified that the disc protrusions suffered by the plaintiff were permanent injuries unless they were surgically repaired and that future pain was likely. He was also allowed to testify that patients who have disc protrusions are likely to have chronic pain and will probably need future injections or surgery. He also testified over objection that the collision caused the protrusions.
Under Texas Rules of Evidence, an expert can testify if the proponent of the testimony shows the expert is qualified and the testimony is relevant and based on a reliable foundation. An expert’s opinion can be admitted if the expert has special knowledge about the matter for which his or her opinion is sought, such that it will assist the jury or trier of fact. The court noted that the chiropractor had testified that he trusted specialists to make treatment decisions he was not qualified to undertake. The court found that the chiropractor wasn’t qualified to testify that the $19,347.71 in medical expenses would fairly compensate the plaintiff. The court affirmed the amounts found for past and future physical pain, mental anguish, and physical impairment, but it reversed the portion of the judgment awarding $25,373.71 for past medical expenses.
If you’re hurt in a serious car accident in Texas, it is important to make sure you retain an attorney who works with knowledgeable experts and understands their role at trial. The experienced San Antonio car accident attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.