A jury ordered a Rock Hill chiropractor to pay more than $800,000 after evidence showed fraudulent records may have been created to conceal part of a woman's treatment performed hours before she was hospitalized.
Cheryl Chandler sought relief for minor back pain from a chiropractor after seeing a family physician in June 2006. The Rock Hill woman, then 53, said she had an aching pain that continued down her leg.
Chandler said she heard a chiropractor could provide some relief, so she went to see Narry Beaver of Beaver Chiropractic and Spinal Rehab in Rock Hill.
"However, after my first treatment, I was feeling a little worse," she said. "I had difficulty sleeping."
Because Chandler was in pain, she had her husband take her for a follow-up treatment the next day.
Hours after that treatment, she was admitted to the hospital with "intractable pain," and given morphine. An MRI revealed the need to do surgery to repair the disc in her back.
"It was the most excruciating pain I've ever had," Chandler said. "I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured disc. Following surgery, I've never been like I was before. I'm always in some measure of back pain."
Beaver, who left the office in Rock Hill and has been practicing in Cheraw for the past four years, said his treatment didn't cause the woman's herniated disc.
"It was impossible from what I did," Beaver said. "I saw the patient twice. She was in a lot of pain. I didn't cause it. This was just one patient who already had a problem."
Chandler sued Narry Beaver and the chiropractic office for alleged malpractice in 2008 on the grounds they failed to fully evaluate her medical history, perform a proper physical exam, take proper X-rays and were acting outside the scope of chiropractic practice.
After a weeklong trial in Circuit Court, a York County jury last week awarded Chandler $500,000 in punitive damages and $305,000 in actual damages.
Punitive damages, which are usually in excess of provable injuries, are awarded in cases where the defendant's actions are "egregiously insidious."
These types of damages, which are intended to punish the responsible party and deter others from committing the same acts, in medical malpractice cases in South Carolina are rare, said Chandler's attorney Robert Phillips.
Andrew Cole, an attorney who represented Beaver Chiropractic declined, to comment on the case.
Two medical records
After her surgery, Chandler's husband called the chiropractor's office to alert them of her hospitalization and cancel her remaining appointments.
Chandler said she later decided to see a lawyer, and obtained her medical records from Beaver Chiropractic.
The record released to her stated the doctor gave her a side-posture adjustment - where the chiropractor positions the patient on his or her side, then applies a quick and precise manipulative thrust to the misaligned vertebra - during the first day of treatment, but not the second.
Because the adjustment is an invasive procedure, the plaintiff alleges it was left off the treatment records from the day she was hospitalized to possibly avoid showing causation.
That record also misspelled Chandler's first name.
A separate record, obtained through Phillips, listed the adjustment on both days as well as other details missing in the records released to Chandler.
"Evidence showed the chiropractor altered his records on his treatment from the day she went to the hospital," Phillips said. "Doctors have to be able to rely on accurate medical records. Altering medical records could put the public's health at risk."
Dr. Reuben Orr, who has owned Beaver Chiropractic since before Chandler was treated, said a "software glitch" led to the dual records.
"The discrepancy with the records is an issue with the software and how it was inputted," Orr said. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to testify to the difference in the records."
He added that chiropractic treatment is safe.
"Dr. Beaver has practiced more than 30 years without other similar allegations of injuries being caused," Orr said. "I've practiced 10 years, and I haven't had a problem before then or since then."
Chandler said her life has never been the same. She can't ride bikes, hike or camp with family like she used to. She struggles to play on the floor with her grandkids or pick them up.
"You just have to completely change your life," she said. "You have to make adjustments to everything. You have to pay attention to what you do so you don't aggravate it."
She's said she's had eight steroid shots and been in continuing therapy. She said she might need another surgery.
"Hopefully, in the future there's going to be something that will put my back to how it was," Chandler said. "It's ever-present pain."
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