Assessment of Malpractice Claims Associated With Acute Compartment Syndrome

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Abstract

Background:

Because acute compartment syndrome is one of the few limb-threatening and life-threatening orthopaedic conditions and is difficult to diagnose, it is a frequent source of litigation. Understanding the factors that lead to plaintiff verdicts and higher indemnity payments may improve patient care by identifying common pitfalls.

Methods:

The VerdictSearch legal claims database was queried for the term “compartment syndrome.” After 46 cases were excluded for missing information or irrelevancy, 139 cases were reviewed. The effects of plaintiff demographics, mechanism of injury, and complications were assessed.

Results:

Of 139 cases, 37 (27%) were settled, 69 (50%) resulted in a defendant ruling, and 33 (24%) resulted in a plaintiff ruling. Juries were more likely to rule in favor of juvenile plaintiffs than adult patients (P = 0.002) and female plaintiffs than male plaintiffs (P = 0.008), but indemnity payments were not affected by the age or sex of the plaintiff. Plaintiffs who experienced acute compartment syndrome as a complication of surgery were more likely to win their suit and receive higher awards (P < 0.05), compared with those in whom the condition developed as a result of trauma. Amputation or delay in diagnosis or treatment did not affect plaintiff verdicts or awards.

Conclusion:

Defendants were more likely to lose a lawsuit concerning the management of acute compartment syndrome if the patient was a woman or child or if acute compartment syndrome developed as a complication of a surgical procedure.

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