Jersey Justices juggle chiropractic issue

John O'Brien Jun. 18, 2008, 4:44pm


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - Chiropractors in New Jersey may soon have permission to manipulate more on their patients than their backs.

The state Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a negligence claim over the "chiropractic adjustment of an extremity" should be retried, siding with a pair of chiropractors who shared an office.

Carol Bedford said Dr. Anthony Riello injured her knee during a 1999 session. Dr. Peter Lowenstein, her regular chiropractor, was on vacation.

"She told Dr. Riello that she was experiencing pain in her right hip and in her left knee," Justice Virginia Long wrote. "Dr. Riello adjusted Plaintiff's back and then proceeded to adjust her knee by draping her left leg over his forearm and 'pushing down... like a lever.'

"Plaintiff testified that she 'heard a pop and (felt a) burning immediately.' When plaintiff got off of the examination table, her knee throbbed, burned and 'hurt... very badly.'"

Eventually, Bedford underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her knee. Another surgery was needed to remove a cyst from behind the same knee.

A jury found for the doctors, but the Appellate Division reversed it. It said chiropractors should only deal with the spinal column, not extremities. In the opinion, the Division claimed the trial judge should have informed the jury that Dr. Riello was acting outside the scope of legitimate chiropractic practice (evidence of negligence).

The Justices said a new trial, using expert testimony, should decide if manipulation of the knee "bore a nexus" to the spinal column.

"The jury should be instructed that, if it concludes that no condition of the adjusted structure was properly related to a spinal condition, the adjustment would fall outside the scope of chiropractic practice in New Jersey, as defined in the statutes and regulations, and that such violation may be considered evidence that defendants were negligent," Long wrote.

Chief Justice and former state Attorney General Stuart Rabner did not participate in the case. Justice Barry Albin concurred in part and dissented in part, as did Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto.

Albin and Rivera-Soto did not want to penalize the defendants for following the rules set forth by a board that governs state chiropractors because they are not consistent with state law.

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