Malpractice trends in shoulder and elbow surgery.
BACKGROUND: Medical malpractice is a very common occurrence that many medical providers will have to face; approximately 17,000 medical malpractice cases are filed in the United States each year, and more than 99% of all surgeons are faced with at least 1 instance of malpractice litigation throughout their careers. Malpractice litigation also carries a major economic weight, with medical malpractice spending resulting in an aggregate expenditure of nearly $60 billion annually in the United States. Orthopedic surgery is one of the most common subspecialties involved in malpractice claims. Currently, there are no comprehensive studies examining malpractice lawsuits within shoulder and elbow surgery. Therefore, the purpose of this work is to examine trends in malpractice claims in shoulder and elbow surgery. METHODS: The Westlaw online legal database was queried in order to identify state and federal jury verdicts and settlements pertaining to shoulder and elbow surgery from 2010-2020. Only cases involving medical malpractice in which an orthopedic shoulder and elbow surgeon was a named defendant were included for analysis. All available details pertaining to the cases were collected. This included plaintiff demographic and geographic data. Details regarding the cases were also collected, such as anatomic location, pathology, complications, and case outcomes. RESULTS: Twenty-five malpractice lawsuits pertaining to orthopedic shoulder and elbow surgery were identified. Most plaintiffs in these cases were adult men, and the majority of cases were filed in the Southwest (28%) and Midwest (28%) regions of the United States. The most common anatomic region involved in claims was the rotator cuff (32%), followed by the glenohumeral joint (20%). The majority of these claims involved surgery (56%). Pain of mechanical nature was the most common complication seen in claims (56%). The jury ruled in favor of the defendant surgeon in most cases (80%). DISCUSSION: This is the first study that comprehensively examines the full scope of orthopedic shoulder and elbow malpractice claims across the United States. The most common complaint that plaintiffs reported at the time of litigation was residual pain after treatment due to a mechanical etiology, followed by complaints of nerve damage. A large portion of claims resulted after nonoperative treatment. A better understanding of the trends within malpractice claims is crucial to developing strategies for prevention.
Sharma, A; Whitlock, KG; Gage, MJ; Lassiter, TE; Anakwenze, OA; Klifto, CS
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