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Acupuncture Patient Left 'Pinned' on Table: Can She Sue?

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 26, 2013 12:48 PM

An acupuncture patient who was abandoned on a table found herself "stuck" in more ways than one.

The Texas woman was getting an acupuncture treatment at a clinic in Arlington, near Dallas, earlier this month when she helplessly realized her acupuncturist had closed shop and forgotten about her.

She managed to pull the needles out herself and called 911, Dallas' WFAA-TV reports. But can she sue the acupuncturist for leaving her "pinned"?

Stick It to the (Medical) Man

Doctors aren't the only ones who can be "on the hook" for medical liability and "stuck" with malpractice lawsuits.

Acupuncturists are licensed and regulated by the Texas Medical Board, so this Lone Ranger Patient can potentially sue her acupuncturist.

Medical professionals are commonly sued for negligence, or breaching a duty of professional care. This can stem from misdiagnosis, mistakes made during surgery, or errors in treatment -- like, y'know, forgetting patients with pins protruding from their bodies.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Usually, a victim needs expert witnesses to testify about the appropriate standard of care in order to prove medical malpractice. But in "sticky" situations like this, a legal theory called res ipsa loquitur may allow a jury to infer that negligence occurred.

While being abandoned at an acupuncture facility isn't quite the same as a sponge being left inside your abdomen, having no choice but to pull needles from your body all by your lonesome strongly suggests the acupuncturist probably did something improper.

Injuries?

But if she sues for negligence or malpractice, the forgotten patient's greatest hurdle will be proving damages. The acupuncturist could try to "poke holes" in the patient's case by arguing she didn't suffer cognizable injuries from the snafu.

Similarly, if the woman tries to sue for false imprisonment from being locked inside her acupuncturist's office, a possible defense could be that it was a mere oversight, and was not done intentionally.

Still, it's important to remember the unique context of acupuncture therapy. Patients are often referred by doctors to acupuncturists to relieve medical issues related to stress or pain.

A patient seeking treatment for pain and stress management -- only to be abandoned by the care provider -- is tragi-comically ironic, and could be potential grounds for a handsome damages award.

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