Factors Affecting Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Over Incidental Durotomy

Factors Affecting Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Over Incidental Durotomy

Injuries to the spine are potentially very serious. Spinal surgery is a delicate procedure and mistakes or incidents of medical negligence can be devastating, or even fatal, for patients receiving treatment.

Like most patients, spinal injury patients may understand the limitations of surgery but do not expect their condition to worsen during a procedure or after it because of incompetence on the part of the surgeon or surgical team.

What is an Incidental Durotomy?

One of the most common examples of injury that can be caused by the surgeon during an operation, or that occurs after surgery has ended, is a durotomy.

A durotomy is a tear in the outer membrane that covers and protects the spinal cord, called the dura mater. Incidental durotomy is the unintentional tearing of the dura mater during surgery. A patient who experiences a durotomy may have symptoms that vary from relatively mild pain and general weakness right through to severe pain, paralysis, brain death or fatality.

Incidental durotomies that occur during surgery are often noticed straight away and rectified by securing the tear before treatment of the patient is completed. Most lawsuits allege that the surgeon had failed to notice the durotomy, or the tear had happened after surgery and was more likely to have happened because of the surgical technique.

Study into Factors Affecting Lawsuit Success in Durotomy Cases

Incidental durotomies are a common reason for medical malpractice lawsuits. Recently, a study was carried out to discover what the factors were that affected the success or otherwise of an incidental durotomy lawsuit.

The study was carried out by medical students at Brown University in Rhode Island. The study group examined the details of 48 incidental durotomy cases. 24 of the people involved in the study were men and 24 were women. The average age of those studied was 55.

Overall, just over half (56%) of the lawsuits were eventually found in favor of the medical staff who were being sued. 44% of the cases heard were found in favor of the plaintiffs.

The study also revealed that 60% of patients complained of weakness caused by the tear in their dura mater, while 20% experienced more severe symptoms, like paralysis and brain damage, as well as death.

The average payment to a successful plaintiff after a durotomy lawsuit in 2016 was $2.8 million.

Factors that seemed to lead to patient success in a durotomy lawsuit included:

  • the fact that the surgeon had to carry out a repair after surgery;
  • delays in diagnosis or treatment by the surgeon;
  • incorrect techniques used when repairing the tear.

73% of people in the survey who experienced improper or unsuccessful repairs had favorable lawsuit outcomes. 62% of those who had alleged that there had been a delay in diagnosis or treatment received favorable outcomes.

Incidental durotomies are certainly not benign events and can cause severe discomfort at the very least to patients and potentially far more severe outcomes. The majority of incidental durotomies should have been discovered during surgery, well before the patient was sewn up.

Incidental durotomies that are discovered on time and repaired promptly have a good recovery rate and are unlikely to lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon or surgical team carrying out the spinal surgery.

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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