Woman who sought treatment then sued chiropractor for 'unwanted contact' gets day in court

David Yates Apr. 7, 2009, 10:26am

Mike Pierce

In June 2007, the Record reported on a suit filed by a woman who sought a neck adjustment then turned and sued the chiropractor for "unwanted, intrusive contact." Now, the case has gone to trial.

Five weeks after undergoing spinal surgery, LaDonna Burge pleaded with her chiropractor, who also happened to be her boss, to perform an adjustment on her ailing neck and back, according to attorney opening statements heard on April 7.

Dr. Scott Kerr, owner of the Community Chiropractic Center, and his colleague Dr. Ken Arola requested that Burge obtain permission from her surgeon. When the surgeon gave her the green light, Kerr and Arola consented to the adjustment and Burge submitted to two sessions in early December 2006.

A few months later, Burge, the receptionist for Community Chiropractic, filed a lawsuit against the chiropractic center, Kerr and Arola in Jefferson County, claiming the adjustments were performed "against her will" and had worsened her already-traumatized neck.

Arola was severed from the other defendants is now on trial in Judge Gary Sanderson's 60th Judicial District Court.

During opening statements, plaintiff's attorney Mike Pierce said Arola failed to exercise good judgment by consenting to Burge's requested adjustment and "therefore (is) negligent."

Pierce added that his expert witness will testify a prudent chiropractor would have waited a year before performing an adjustment on a patient who recently underwent neck surgery.

Pierce went on to tell jurors that the defense's expert will testify against his position only "because they paid him to do so."

"All … expert witnesses are compensated in some way," countered defense attorney Michele Quattlebaum, adding that the common practice compensates medical professionals for the time away from their patients and schedules to testify in court.

Quattlebaum also said her expert will testify that a chiropractor will wait up to a year after surgery like Burge's before giving an adjustment to ensure the vertebrae fusions are solid.

Court documents show Community Chiropractic Center professionals did X-ray Burge and determined the fusion was solid before the adjustment.

As far as both experts are concerned, Quattlebaum said the plaintiff's expert "doesn't really practice" chiropractic anymore and is going to school to become a nurse, while her expert is a professor at the Texas Chiropractic College in Pasadena.

According to court documents and testimony, Burge has altered and contradicted her testimony several times since the suit was filed, alleging the she was "tricked" into a second adjustment although testimony shows that she told her co-workers that the first session made her feel better and she would like another adjustment.

Burge's attorney claims the adjustments "compounded her injury," causing a painful bulged disk.

Conversely, Quattlebaum argues Burge's alleged bulged disk pain may have resulted from her refusal to undergo physical rehabilitation, and the attorney also noted that Burge has a documented history of playing up her pain in order to obtain drugs from doctors.

"Chiropractic is a treatment for bulging disk" Quattlebaum said. "It does not cause them."

Case history

In the original suit filed June 7, 2007, Burge, a receptionist at Community Chiropractic Center, claimed the employees and owner Scott D. Kerr made "unwanted, intrusive contact to her neck against her will."

"Prior to her hiring, defendants knew that Burge had recently undergone serious neck surgery. Nevertheless, shortly after plaintiff began working for defendants, defendants made unwanted, intrusive contact to plaintiff's neck against her will," the suit alleges.

Burge is asking jurors to award her damages for medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, courts costs, physical pain and mental anguish.

Pierce said Burge's future medical treatment would be "expensive."

Pierce is attorney for the Arnold & Itkin law firm.

Quattlebaum is an attorney for the Helms & Greene law firm.

Judge Gary Sanderson of the 60th Judicial District is presiding over the trial.

Case No. B179-452

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