Malpractice litigation following orthopaedic surgery of the hip: Frequency, reasons for lawsuit, and outcomes

Medico-Legal Journal, Ahead of Print.
Medical malpractice litigation in the United States has resulted in the widespread adoption of defensive medicine practices. Orthopaedic surgery is among the specialties most likely to face a malpractice lawsuit, and hip-related surgeries are commonly involved. This study aimed to analyse malpractice litigation as it relates to hip surgery in the United States. The purpose of this study was to seek answers to the following questions: Has there been an increase or a decrease in the number of hip surgery malpractice cases in recent years? What are the most common reasons for a patient to pursue litigation? Which surgical complications are most likely to result in a lawsuit? What trends do we see in terms of outcomes? The Westlaw legal database was queried for all relevant cases from 2008 to 2018. A retrospective review of cases was conducted and descriptive analyses were performed in order to identify factors associated with hip surgery malpractice litigation. A total of 82 cases were analysed. There was a downtrend in the number of cases per year. Total hip arthroplasty (47 cases, 57.3%) was the procedure most often involved. Procedural error was noted as a reason for litigation in 71 (86.6%) cases. Neurological injury (22 cases, 26.8%), malpositioned hardware (15 cases, 18.3%) and leg length discrepancy (8 cases, 9.8%) were the most common complications listed. The majority of cases resulted in a verdict in favour of the defendant orthopaedic surgeon (48 cases, 58.5%). The mean payout for a plaintiff verdict (20 cases, 24.4%) was $1,647,981 (range, $1,852–$7,000,000) and the mean payout for a settlement (13 cases, 15.9%) was $657,823 (range, $49,000–$3,000,000) (p = 0.063). The study concluded that, within the 10-year period, there was a significant downtrend in hip surgery malpractice cases filed per year. Orthopaedic surgeons were found liable in the minority of cases. As expected, verdicts in favour of plaintiffs resulted in seemingly higher payouts than settlements.

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