Acupuncture, a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine, has gained significant popularity as a complementary and alternative medical practice in the United States.

However, despite its many benefits, acupuncture carries inherent risks, including serious injuries like pneumothorax, or collapsed lung, which can occur if needles are improperly handled. This article explores the legal landscape surrounding acupuncturist medical malpractice, using real-world cases to illustrate the potential for litigation.

Overview of Acupuncture as Medical Treatment

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to alleviate pain or to help treat various health conditions. It is commonly used for pain relief, to treat chronic conditions, and as a complement to other medical treatments. While many patients experience significant benefits, acupuncture, like any medical treatment, involves risks that should not be overlooked.

Legal Definition of Medical Malpractice in Acupuncture

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider deviates from the standard of care in their field, resulting in injury to a patient. In the context of acupuncture, malpractice might include using non-sterile needles, improper needle placement, or failing to take adequate patient histories—actions that can lead to severe outcomes.

Case Study: Substantial Settlement in Unlicensed Acupuncture Pneumothorax Injury Case

One of the most serious potential injuries from acupuncture is pneumothorax, which can occur if a needle punctures the lung.

In a significant case from Chula Vista, California, a lawsuit was filed by Jamie Del Fierro against Dr. Walker Scott, a chiropractor who was not licensed to practice acupuncture. Del Fierro visited Dr. Scott seeking relief from tension headaches and underwent an acupuncture procedure. During the session, needles were inserted into her neck, back, and chest areas.

Del Fierro experienced immediate pain under her arm and had difficulty breathing, symptoms she reported to Dr. Scott. However, her concerns were dismissed, and she was sent home. Hours later, her condition worsened, leading to an emergency room visit where she was diagnosed with a pneumothorax—her lung had collapsed.

Related: Pneumothorax: California Lawsuits for Collapsed Lungs Due to Acupuncture

The lawsuit highlighted the serious risks associated with unlicensed practitioners performing complex procedures like acupuncture. It was argued that Dr. Scott’s lack of acupuncture training and certification directly contributed to the injury. This case drew attention to the importance of verifying practitioner credentials and the need for patients to be informed about the risks associated with such procedures.

The case did not go to trial as a substantial settlement was obtained beforehand. This resolution underscores the legal accountability faced by unlicensed individuals performing medical procedures. On their website, the plaintiff’s attorney, Foldenauer Law, notes the successful resolution of the case, stating:

“Our client, who sustained pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and other complications, successfully sued the unlicensed chiropractor who punctured her lung with an acupuncture needle.”

This outcome is a deterrent against unlicensed practice and emphasizes the potential legal repercussions for practitioners who bypass the necessary qualifications for such treatments.

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Professional Standards and Guidelines

Clinical guidelines suggest acupuncture as a first-line treatment for conditions like chronic low-back pain. However, adherence to professional standards and guidelines is crucial. Acupuncturists must be properly trained and licensed, and they should follow strict hygiene and safety protocols to minimize risks to patients.

Requirements for Practicing Acupuncturists

To practice acupuncture in the U.S., practitioners must complete rigorous training and obtain certification. The standards vary significantly between physician acupuncturists and non-physician practitioners, with physicians often having a deeper understanding of the medical implications of acupuncture.

Legal Grounds for a Lawsuit Against an Acupuncturist

If you believe you have been a victim of malpractice, you may have grounds to sue based on:

  • Negligence: For not providing the standard of care expected in the field.
  • Lack of Informed Consent: For not fully informing you of the risks associated with the procedure.
  • Licensing Issues: If the acupuncturist was practicing without the proper credentials.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I suspect malpractice by my acupuncturist?

Seek medical attention, document everything, and consult with a personal injury attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases.

What compensation can I claim?

You may be eligible for damages covering medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

How can I check if my acupuncturist is properly licensed?

Verify their credentials through your state’s medical licensing board or similar regulatory body.

The Role of Expert Witnesses in Acupuncture Malpractice Claims

In lawsuits alleging acupuncture-related malpractice, expert witnesses play a critical role. These experts can testify about the standard of care expected in the field and whether it was breached by the practitioner in question.

Legal and Financial Repercussions of Malpractice Claims

Victims of acupuncture malpractice can pursue damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. The success of such claims heavily depends on proving that the practitioner’s negligence directly caused the injury.

Patient Education and Safety

Patients considering acupuncture should verify the credentials and licensing of their practitioner and should be fully informed of the risks associated with the treatment. Choosing a well-qualified and reputable acupuncturist is essential to ensuring safety and effectiveness.

While acupuncture offers many health benefits, it is not without risks. Patients who have suffered injuries due to acupuncture malpractice have legal rights and may be eligible for compensation. If you believe you have been injured by an acupuncturist’s malpractice, consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your options and pursue the appropriate course of action.

Contact Silva Injury Law anytime for a free consultation with a qualified attorney.

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