Malpractice Litigation in Cornea and Refractive Surgery: A Review of the WestLaw Database

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Abstract

Purpose:

To report and analyze the causes and outcomes of malpractice litigation in cornea and refractive surgery.

Methods:

The WestLaw database was reviewed for all malpractice litigation related to ophthalmology in the United States between 1930 and 2014. Search terms included ophthalmology or ophthalmologist and malpractice anywhere in the retrieved results. All cases involving cornea and refractive surgery were included in this analysis, and results were compared with ophthalmology as a whole.

Results:

One hundred fifty-nine cornea and refractive surgery cases between the years 1964 and 2014 were included. Ninety-three cases (58.5%) were resolved through a jury trial, 21.5% of which were associated with plaintiff verdicts with a median adjusted jury award of $588,896 (mean $1,518,686). Nineteen cases (11.9%) resulted in settlements with a median adjusted indemnity of $782,533 (mean $761,963). Commonly litigated scenarios included laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (74.2%) and corneal transplantation (8.2%). Overall, 88.7% of cases involved surgical or procedural claims, 8.8% involved noninterventional claims, and 2.5% involved medical claims only.

Conclusions:

Cornea and refractive surgery is a high-risk subspecialty of ophthalmology. Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis and corneal transplant claims were the most commonly litigated entities in this series. Many cases focus on failure to achieve patients' desired expectations after elective refractive procedures or the negligent performance of refractive surgery on patients with contraindications to surgery, both highlighting the importance of detailed informed consent discussions, realistic goal setting with patients, and thorough examinations and preoperative evaluation.

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