Leading Causes of Anesthesia-Related Liability Claims in Ambulatory Surgery Centers

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We present a contemporary analysis of patient injury, allegations, and contributing factors of anesthesia-related closed claims, which involved cases that specifically occurred in free-standing ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs).


We examined ASC-closed claims data between 2007 and 2014 from The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurer. Findings were coded using the Comprehensive Risk Intelligence Tool developed by CRICO Strategies. We compared coded data from ASC claims with hospital operating room (HOR) claims, in terms of injury severity category, nature of injury, nature of allegation, contributing factors identified, and contributing comorbidities and claim value.


Ambulatory surgery center claims were more likely to be classified as medium severity than HOR claims, more likely to involve dental damage or pain than HOR claims, but less likely to involve death or respiratory or cardiac arrest. Technical performance was the most common contributing factor: 47% of ASCs and 48% of HORs. Only 7% of allegations relating to technical performance were judged to be a direct result of poor technical performance. The most common anesthesia procedures resulting in ASC claims were injection of anesthesia into a peripheral nerve (34%) and intubation (29%). Obesity was the most common contributing comorbidity in both settings. Mean closed claim value was significantly lower for ASC than HOR claims, averaging US $87,888 versus $107,325.


Analysis of ASC and HOR claims demonstrates significant differences and several common sources of liability. These include improving strategies for thorough screening, preoperative assessment and risk stratifying of patients, incorporating routine dental and airway assessment and documentation, diagnosing and treating perioperative pain adequately, and improving the efficacy of communication between patients and care providers.

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