What are the complications following tonsillectomy and the legal outcomes of malpractice claims?
Background: While all surgeons wish to identify and minimize surgical complications, it would also be a good idea if they better understood which situations might lend themselves to malpractice lawsuits. Among the circumstances that can lead to morbidity and mortality when a tonsillectomy is performed are airway fires, hypoxic events and bleeding.
Study design: Retrospective analysis of jury verdict reports within the LexisNexis database submitted after tonsillectomy malpractice cases.
Setting: Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, OhioHealth, Columbus; Department of Pediatric Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Dinsmore and Shohl Attorneys, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Synopsis: Jury verdicts and settlements from 1984 through 2010 showed 365 reports with the key words “tonsillectomy” and “malpractice.” The most common complication was post-operative bleeding (33.7 percent), followed by anoxic events occurring either intra-operatively or post-operatively (16.9 percent) and impaired function (15.7 percent). Patient death occurred in 40.4 percent of reports and was most frequently associated with post-operative bleeding (54.2 percent), followed by anoxic events (18.1 percent) and post-operative medication issues (16.7 percent). Monetary awards were available in 24.7 percent of reports. Anoxic events were noted to have the highest median award at $3,051,296, followed by post-operative medication at $950,000.
Bottom line: While post-operative bleeding is the most frequent complication of tonsillectomy and the most commonly associated with malpractice claims, it does not carry the greatest risk with respect to settlements or judgments.
Reference: Stevenson AN, Myer CM III, Shuler MD, et al. Complications and legal outcomes of tonsillectomy malpractice claims. Laryngoscope. 2012;122(1):71-74.