Refractive Surgery: Malpractice Litigation Outcomes

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Abstract

Purpose:

To review data on malpractice claims related to refractive surgery to identify common allegations and injuries and financial outcomes.

Methods:

The WestlawNext database was reviewed for all malpractice lawsuits/settlements related to refractive eye surgery. Data evaluated included patient demographics, type of operation performed, plaintiff allegation, nature of injury, and litigation outcomes.

Results:

A total of 167 cases met the inclusion criteria, of which 108 cases (64.7%) were found to be favorable and 59 cases (35.3%) unfavorable to the defendant. A total of 141 cases were tried by a jury with 108 cases (76.4%) favorable and 33 cases (23.6%) unfavorable to the defendant. Laser in situ keratomileusis was performed in 127 cases (76%). The most common allegations were negligence in treatment or surgery in 127 cases (76%) and lack of informed consent in 83 cases (49.7%). For all cases, the need for future surgery (P = 0.0001) and surgery resulting in keratoconus (P = 0.05) were more likely to favor the plaintiff. In jury verdict decisions, cases in which failure to diagnose a preoperative condition was alleged favored the defendant (P = 0.03), whereas machine malfunction (P = 0.05) favored the plaintiff. After adjustment for inflation, the overall mean award was $1,287,872. Jury verdicts and settlements led to mean awards of $1,604,801 and $826,883, respectively.

Conclusions:

Malpractice litigation in refractive surgery tends to favor the defendant. However, large awards and settlements were given in cases that were favorable to the plaintiff. The need for future surgery and surgery leading to keratoconus increased the chance of an unfavorable outcome.

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