Thyroidectomy-Related Malpractice Claims

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Abstract

Objective.

Little information is available regarding the frequency of thyroidectomy-related malpractice claims. Previous studies have not assessed claims that were settled or dropped before trial, providing only a limited view of the medical-legal environment. We sought to determine the frequency of thyroid surgery-related malpractice claims, their causes, and outcomes.

Study Design.

Database assessment.

Setting.

Academic medical center.

Subjects and Methods.

The database of the Physician Insurers Association of America was reviewed. These data are estimated to represent 25% of medical malpractice claims in the United States. Claims from 1985 to 2008 with thyroid-related procedure codes were evaluated for claimant information, insured’s specialty, loss description, causation, and claim outcomes.

Results.

During the 24-year period reviewed, 380 claims related to thyroid surgery were reported. 128 claims (33.7% of total claims) resulted in an indemnity payment either due to settlement or a finding against the defendant. The average indemnity payment was $185,366 (range, $363 to $2,000,000). Among cases in which a specific outcome was reported, 55 were related to laryngeal nerve injury or voice disturbance. No substantial change occurred in the incidence of claims across the study period. During this time, approximately 2,585,000 thyroidectomies were performed. Extrapolating from the Physician Insurers Association of America data, this represents an estimated 5.9 claims per 10,000 cases.

Conclusion.

Malpractice claims related to thyroid surgery are surprisingly infrequent. While the rates of thyroid surgery have risen steadily, there has not been a corresponding increase in the rate of related malpractice claims.

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