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Malpractice Litigation Involving Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy. Cost, Cause, And Consequences.

K. Kern
Published 1997 · Medicine

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OBJECTIVE To analyze 44 cases of malpractice litigation involving laparoscopic cholecystectomy for cost, cause, and consequences of civil court actions. DESIGN Survey of national jury verdict reporting services, covering 20 states during the 39-month interval from January 1, 1993, to April 30, 1996. The 44 laparoscopic cholecystectomies were performed during the 40-month interval from February 1, 1989, to June 30, 1992. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Types of injuries leading to litigation, morbidity and mortality from injuries, trial verdicts, and cost of liability payments. RESULTS The 44 injuries composed 4 main categories of injuries: (1) bile duct, n = 27, 61%; (2) bowel, n = 7, 16%; (3) major vascular, n = 4, 9%; and (4) other, n = 6, 14%. Bowel injuries involved trocar or cautery injury; vascular injuries all involved trocars. There were 7 deaths (16%) overall from either septic peritonitis resulting from bowel injury (4 patients [57%]) or bile peritonitis involving spills or cystic duct leaks (3 patients [43%]). No deaths resulted from injury to main bile ducts. Of the 44 cases, 21 (48%) settled out of court (mean payment, $469,711). Of the remaining 23 cases proceeding to trial, 19 (83%) were defended successfully while 4 (17%) concluded with plaintiff jury verdicts (mean payment, $188,772). CONCLUSIONS Frequent settlements of cases involving laparoscopic cholecystectomy injuries that are litigated have resulted in a selection of cases of increased defensibility at trial. The high mortality rate from bowel injuries is a new medicolegal finding in laparoscopic cholecystectomies, as expensive to settle (mean payment, $438,000) as laparoscopic cholecystectomy bile duct injury (mean payment, $507,000).

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