Medical malpractice in orthopedic surgery: A westlaw-based demographic analysis

Nicole D. Rynecki, Daniel Coban, Owen Gantz, Raghav Gupta, Varun Ayyaswami, Arpan V. Prabhu, Jeremy Ruskin, Sheldon S. Lin, Kathleen S. Beebe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


A recent study that evaluated the risk of facing a malpractice claim by physician specialty found that orthopedic surgeons were at a significantly greater risk of being sued than other medical specialists. To date, no studies have characterized trends in orthopedic surgery malpractice claims. The Westlaw legal database was used to locate state and federal jury verdicts and settlements related to medical malpractice and orthopedic surgery from 2010 to 2016. Eighty-one cases were analyzed. The mean age of the affected patients and/or plaintiffs was 53.4 years. Spine surgery (21 cases; 25.9%), knee surgery (17 cases; 21.0%), and hip surgery (11 cases; 13.6%) were litigated most often. Procedural error (71 cases; 87.7%) and negligence (58 cases; 71.6%) were the 2 most commonly cited reasons for litigation. The jury found in favor of the defendant in most (50 cases; 61.7%) of the cases. The mean plaintiff (17 cases; 21.0%) verdict payout was $3,015,872, and the mean settlement (13 cases; 16.0%) value was $1,570,833. Unnecessary surgery (odds ratio [OR], 12.29; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.91-108.46; P=.040) and surgery resulting in death (OR, 26.26; 95% CI, 2.55-497.42; P=.040) were significant predictors of a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Patient death (OR, 0.05; 95% CI, 0.01-0.38; P=.021) and male patient sex (OR, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.09-0.71; P=.033) were significant negative predictors of a verdict in favor of the defendant. The jury found in favor of the defendant orthopedic surgeon in most cases. Procedural error and/or negligence were cited most commonly by the plaintiffs as the bases for the claims. Verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs resulted in payouts nearly double those of settlements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E615-E620
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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