A study entitled “Medical Malpractice Claims Following Incidental Durotomy Due to Spinal Surgery” that was published on July 1, 2018 in the medical journal Spine analyzed 48 medical malpractice cases in which the patient suffered a dural tear during spinal surgery. The most frequently occurring complication during lumbar spine surgery is incidental tear of the dural sac and subsequent cerebrospinal fluid leak, with revision procedures having the highest rates. One study from 2004 found the rates of dural tears for commonly performed spinal operations were 3.5% for primary discectomy, 8.5% for spinal stenosis surgery, and 13.2% for revision discectomy.
The recent study found that in the 48 dural tear-related medical malpractice cases that were analyzed, 86.7% alleged neurological deficits and 56.3% of the cases resulted in a ruling in favor of the defendant physician. In the cases in which neurological deficits were not claimed, 83.3% resulted in an outcome in favor of the defendant.
The study found that in 56.3% of the cases, additional surgery was necessary. A delay in diagnosis/treatment of a tear in the dural sac was alleged in 43.8% of the medical malpractice cases. Alleged improper durotomy repair was alleged in 22.9% of the medical malpractice cases.
The medical malpractice plaintiffs who alleged a delay in diagnosis/treatment of the dural sac were more likely to have a favorable outcome with their medical malpractice case (61.9% compared to 29.6% for the plaintiffs who did not allege a delay in diagnosis/treatment). The plaintiffs who alleged improper durotomy repair technique were more likely to have a favorable outcome with their medical malpractice case (72.9% compared to 35.1% for the plaintiffs who did not allege improper repair).
The study’s authors concluded: “Durotomy cannot always be considered an entirely benign event, and these findings have several direct implications for clinicians: late-presenting or dehiscent durotomy may be associated with adverse outcomes and subsequent risk of litigation, timely reoperation in the event of durotomy-related complications may not increase surgeon liability, and spine surgeons should be prepared to defend their choice of durotomy repair technique, should dehiscence occur.”
The 48 medical malpractice cases analyzed by the study were resolved by verdict or settlement and included 24 men and 24 women, with an average age of 55. Forty-four percent of the medical malpractice cases were either settled or were decided in favor of the patient or the patient’s family, with the average amount of payment (in those cases involving a payment) being approximately $2.8 million, in 2016-adjusted dollars. The study found that male plaintiffs were more likely to receive a favorable decision than female plaintiffs. The severity of injury alleged ranged from weakness (in about 60% of the cases) to paralysis, brain damage, or death (in 20% of the cases).
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) during spinal surgery in the United States, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your spinal surgery medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a spine surgery medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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