Sandra Nette, an Alberta woman paralysed after her neck was manipulated by a chiropractor, launched the biggest-ever class action suit against chiropractic in Canada. The suit, filed on 12th June 2008 in Edmonton, asked for more than a half billion dollars in damages not only for the victim, Sandy Nette and her husband, David, but for an entire class — anyone in Alberta treated or harmed by chiropractors who delivered "inappropriate and non-beneficial adjustments".
This page was last updated on 6th October 2012.
"A lawsuit against an Edmonton chiropractor by a patient who claimed a neck adjustment left her paralyzed was settled earlier this year in a multimillion-dollar judgment. Sandra Nette and her husband David claimed a chiropractic session in 2007 damaged both her vertebral arteries, disrupting blood flow to her brain. After a failed attempt to launch a class-action suit against chiropractor Gregory John Stiles, the couple continued with their own lawsuit. According to court documents, Sandra was awarded $3.9 million and David received $1.17 million. Other documents reveal Stiles admitted to forging Nette’s signature on a consent form. [A lawyer said the act was “contrary to the criminal code.”] According to an affidavit by Gregory Dunn, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Chiropractic Protective Association, Stiles disclosed he signed Nette’s name on a “blank informed consent form” included in records provided to the CCPA…In a 2010 statement of defence, Stiles initially claimed all procedures were done with Nette’s consent and that her injuries were due to “pre-existing medical conditions or other causes”." Edmonton Journal (4th October 2012)
"Minutes after visiting an Edmonton, Alberta chiropractor for a routine neck adjustment on September 13th 2007, Sandy Nette suffered a paralysing stroke. From her hospital bed she answers questions about her experience using a speech synthesising touch pad." (YouTube video — 7 mins 57 secs)
In January 2010, the court dismissed the ACAC [Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors] after concluding that (a) it did not owe a private duty of care to individual citizens and could not be held responsible for the conduct of its members, and (b) disputes about false claims by the association would be a matter for review by the legislature rather than the courts. The court also refused to certify the suit as a class action. The malpractice suit against Stiles is still active and will proceed. As of this writing, the plaintiffs have not decided whether to appeal the January 2010 ruling.
After further examination of the facts, the Spa and its owners were voluntarily dismissed as a defendant. In July 2009, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench concluded that the Ministry of Health did not owe a private duty of care to individual citizens and dismissed it as a defendant.
Full details of the lawsuit, which is seeking more than $525 million in damages, are available via this link to Chirobase.
Statement of Claim: Sandra Gay Nette and David Nette v. Gregory John Stiles (The Spa at LifeStiles), Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors, and Her Majesty The Queen In Right of Alberta (Minister of Health and Wellness)
Filed on 12th June 2008:
[1.] This lawsuit arises from the fact that, once again, a perfectly healthy young woman's life has been irreparably and devastatingly damaged as a result of her exposure to a chiropractor's manipulation of the vertebrae in her upper neck to correct alleged subluxations. The procedure is an ineffective and dangerous one which chiropractors employ routinely. Ideological practitioners of chiropractic masquerading in the white smock of science perpetuate its unregulated indiscriminate use with the condonation and protection of their supposed regulator against all reason. It has got to be stopped.
[2.] This action concerns the promotion and supply, by members of Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors to the Class Members, for economic gain, of chiropractic interventions directed at the identification and correction of "vertebral subluxations" or involving manipulation of the upper cervical spine during the Class Period and seeks damages for the losses which the plaintiffs and the other Class Members were exposed to and suffered thereby.
[3.] For the purpose of this pleading, the following definitions apply:…
3 (c ) "Inappropriate and Non-beneficial Adjustment" means
(i) diagnostic procedures or chiropractic adjustment of the spinal column rendered to asymptomatic persons, persons without an identifiable medical condition or persons with vertebral subluxations: (ii) any chiropractic adjustment of the spinal column other than chiropractic adjustment of the lumbar spine based on objective patient assessment finding(s) of mechanical disability in a joint of the lumbar spine, to treat a diagnosis made a the time the adjustment is administered of acute or sub-acute uncomplicated low back pain in an adult…
[11.] The Class Defendants owed the Class Members a duty to
(a) not advise unsubstantiated procedures that lacked scientific justification or plausible rationale, or disproven procedures, to the Class Members who sought health care services from them nor subject them to such procedures;
(b) fairly disclose the demonstrated benefits and the material risks associated with the interventions they advised to the class Members who sought health care services from them, the comparative risks and benefits of other forms of service(s), or of non-treatment, and to obtain their informed consent to the services(s) provided to them;
(c) not to charge them a fee for services that cannot restore, maintain or enhance human health.
[Click on the link to read the complete 81-page Statement of Claim — pdf]
Alberta lawyers Daryl Wilson and Philip Tinkler have taken the risky, yet inspiring and necessary legal action to go after the head of the snake, the regulators and the government. Their motivation is not financial; it is simple humanity and pain at the unnecessary suffering of their client. These lawyers will not go away. Chiropractic subluxations will be on trial. If they are shown not to exist, which they do not, chiropractic will be reduced to simple manipulation therapy for the almost negligible instances where it is helpful. Chiropractic highest neck manipulation in particular will be gone. Article by John William Kinsinger, MD, The Calgary Herald [2-pages]
"Nette says she suffers from 'Locked-In Syndrome', an incurable condition that her statement of claim says is akin to being "the closest thing to being buried alive". She says she cannot move or speak and uses mechanical devices to help her swallow and breathe." Report by John Cotter, The Canadian Press
Unlike in other cases of deaths or injuries, the strategy this time is not simply to establish a link between Ms. Nette's shattered health and her neck adjustment, but to demand the provincial health ministry, charged with a duty to the public justify its endorsement of such an allegedly hazardous practice. Report by Kevin Libin, National Post (Canada) [4-pages]