Ruptured colon from colonic procedure at health spa

We represented a 48-year old woman who suffered a ruptured colon as the result of receiving a colonic at a Scottsdale health spa.  Although a colonic procedure is not required to be administered by a physician in the state of Arizona, our client chose this particular spa because it advertised a naturopathic physician on staff and, in its brochure, the spa stated that it specialized in “digestive disorders, colonics, and naturopathic medicine.”  Based on the advertising, our client believed that properly trained and medically supervised employees administered the colonics.  The spa also advertised that the procedure was completely safe.

The colonic procedure was performed by the spa's owner who, unbeknownst to our client, had no medical training and had never received instruction from a physician on the proper use of the colonic equipment.  About 20 minutes after the colonic procedure began, our client began to feel clammy and to suffer extreme abdominal cramping, fever, nausea, and pain.  She was told to go home and get some rest.  As the symptoms worsened, our client decided to go to the emergency room of a local hospital, where she was diagnosed with a perforated colon.  Because of the extent of the infection that had developed, the emergency room surgeon determined it necessary to remove a portion of her colon.  In addition, the surgeon re-routed part of our client's large intestine, and then he fitted her with a temporary colostomy bag.  She was required to wear the colostomy bag until a second surgery was performed several months later.  As a result of her injuries, our client missed more than five months of work. 

Initially, the spa’s insurance carrier denied our client's claim for damages for the reason that the liability policy specifically excluded coverage for “professional services” rendered by the spa. Because of the denial of the claim, we filed a lawsuit against both the spa and the naturopathic physician who apparently was serving as the spa’s medical director.  After the claim was made, the physician denied that she was the spa’s medical director and contended that she merely leased office space at the facility.   

Although colonics may be administered in Arizona by non-medical personnel, our research revealed that the spa's use of the colonic equipment was not pre-approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, therefore, it was necessary for a physician to be involved to prescribe the use of the device, to administer the device, or to supervise someone’s use of the device.  We argued the spa's failure to comply with these rules violated federal law and the unauthorized use of the equipment on our client constituted negligence per se.

Prior to trial, the insurance company changed its position on coverage, and the claim was settled for the sum of $270,000.