Trends and risk factors in orthopedic lawsuits: Analysis of a national legal database

Academic Article


  • Orthopedic surgeons frequently encounter medical malpractice claims. The purpose of this study was to assess trends and risk factors in lawsuits brought against orthopedic surgeons using a national legal database. A legal research service was used to search publicly available settlement and verdict reports between 1988 and 2013 by terms “orthopaedic or orthopedic” and “malpractice.” Temporal trends were evaluated, and logistic regression was used to identify independent risk factors for case outcomes. A total of 1562 publicly reported malpractice cases brought against orthopedic surgeons, proceeding to trial during a 26-year period, were analyzed. The plaintiffs won 462 (30%) cases, with a mean award of $1.4 million. The frequency of litigation and payouts for plaintiffs increased 215% and 280%, respectively, between the first and last 5-year periods. The mean payout for plaintiff-favorable verdicts was highest in pediatrics ($2.6 million), followed by spine ($1.7 million) and oncology ($1.6 million). Fracture fixation (363 cases), arthroplasty (290 cases), and spine (231 cases) were the most commonly litigated procedures, while plaintiffs were most successful for fasciotomy (48%), infection-treating procedures (43%), and carpal tunnel release (37%). When analyzing data by state and region, adjusted for population, northeastern states had a higher frequency of lawsuits. Malpractice liability has increased during the past 3 decades while orthopedic surgeons continue to win most of the cases making it to court. As patients search for medical care via publicly available information, it is important for orthopedic surgeons to understand what aspects of their own practice carry different risks of litigation.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Orthopedics  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Cichos KH; Ewing MA; Sheppard ED; Fuchs C; McGwin G; McMurtrie JT; Watson SL; Xu S; Fryberger C; Baker DK
  • Start Page

  • E260
  • End Page

  • E267
  • Volume

  • 42
  • Issue

  • 2