The estate of former Playboy model Katie May is seeking a seven-figure settlement from the chiropractor she visited just before her death with the intention of giving the money to Mia, her 8-year-old daughter.
The Los Angeles County Coroner determined Oct. 19 that May died at age 34 in February as a result of an injury sustained during a “neck manipulation by chiropractor,” and that the chiropractor, identified as Eric Swartz, shifted May’s neck in a way that tore her left vertebral artery, blocking blood flow to the brain and resulting in a stroke.
Los Angeles Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told PEOPLE that her death is listed as an “infarction of brain” and was ruled an accident.
Mia is the sole survivor to May’s estate, and Mia’s father, her guardian, is suing the chiropractor.
“The coroners report takes the unusual but definitive step of concluding the chiropractor’s treatment was the cause and fact of Katie May’s death,” their lawyer, Ronald Richards, tells PEOPLE. “We have been in contact with a legal representative for the chiropractor and expect to submit a demand shortly with the chiropractor’s insurance carrier. We are hopeful that the chiropractor will want to resolve the matter to avoid further injury to all parties to this unfortunate tragedy.”
May’s father, Walter, says although he and Katie’s brother, Stephen, had discussed the possibility of a lawsuit to benefit Mia, they are not involved.
“This is news to us,” he tells PEOPLE.
Regardless, Walter says suing the chiropractor is “absolutely” the right choice, “as long as my granddaughter has the funds going directly to her.”
A chiropractor unrelated to Katie’s case told PEOPLE that the chance of a torn artery from an adjustment is “very, very rare.”
“In this particular case, unfortunately, her arteries got compromised so much they tore, which created a stroke and ultimately the patient died,” Todd Sinett, Doctor of Chiropractic and author of Three Weeks to a Better Back, said. “Statistically speaking, studies have the chances of this happening an anywhere from one in one million to one in four million.”
Jeffrey Wang, MD, co-director of the USC Spine Center, agreed that her case is a “freak accident,” but said that he would have recommended physical therapy rather than a chiropractic adjustment because of the risk.
“I don’t recommend chiropractic care for patients with spinal cord compression or nerve compression where forceful manipulation may have a great potential for problems,” he said.