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Original Investigation
November 2016

Malpractice Litigation in Pediatric Ophthalmology

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • 2Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 3School of Law, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • 4School of Medicine, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016;134(11):1230-1235. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.3190
Key Points

Question  What are the causes and outcomes of pediatric ophthalmology malpractice litigation?

Findings  In this database review, malpractice litigation involving pediatric patients was significantly more likely to be resolved in favor of the plaintiff and was associated with higher monetary awards than was adult litigation. Cases involving retinopathy of prematurity, blindness, and endophthalmitis resulted in more plaintiff rulings and higher payments to plaintiffs.

Meaning  Malpractice litigation involving pediatric ophthalmology is more often favorable to plaintiffs and has higher monetary awards.

Abstract

Importance  Understanding outcomes of pediatric malpractice litigation allows ophthalmologists to gain insight into how to best care for patients and prevent such litigation.

Objectives  To report and analyze the causes and outcomes of ophthalmology medical malpractice litigation involving patients younger than 18 years.

Design, Setting, and Participants  The WestLaw database was reviewed from April 1 to 30, 2015, for ophthalmology-related lawsuits, including settlements and trial verdicts, in the United States from January 1, 1930, to December 31, 2014. Search terms included ophthalmology or ophthalmologist and malpractice anywhere in the retrieved documents. Cases in which the plaintiffs were younger than 18 years at the time of the inciting event were included. Pediatric cases were compared with adult cases.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Pediatric malpractice case outcomes and settlement amounts.

Results  Sixty-eight ophthalmology malpractice cases involving plaintiffs younger than 18 years were included in the study. Thirty-five cases (51.5%) were resolved via jury trial. Of these 35 cases, verdicts in favor of the plaintiff were issued in 17 pediatric cases (48.6%), compared with 168 of 584 adult cases (28.8%) (difference, 33%; 95% CI, −24% to 64%; P = .01). The 17 cases that resulted in verdicts in favor of the pediatric plaintiff had a mean jury award of $4 815 693 (median, $883 281; range, $147 765-$42 061 690). Nine of the total 68 cases (13.2%) resulted in a settlement, with mean adjusted indemnities of $1 912 738 (median, $1 377 689; range, $92 070-$8 493 086). The remaining 24 cases (35.3%) involved appellate rulings, pretrial and posttrial relief rulings, and 1 bench verdict. Jury awards were higher in pediatric vs adult cases (difference, $3 422 134; 95% CI, −$3 422 134 to $8 731 916; P = .002), as were indemnity payments (difference, $1 186 757; 95% CI, −$69 074 to $3 342 588; P = .003). Cases involving legal blindness were more likely to result in verdicts in favor of the plaintiff (difference, 60.5%; 95% CI, −1% to 62%; P = .30). Common clinical scenarios in cases of litigation were traumatic ocular injury (15 [22.1%]), retinopathy of prematurity (12 [17.6%]), and endophthalmitis (6 [8.8%]).

Conclusions and Relevance  Malpractice litigation involving pediatric patients was more likely to be resolved in favor of the plaintiff and was associated with higher monetary awards than was adult litigation. Cases involving retinopathy of prematurity resulted in the highest payments to plaintiffs, and cases involving legal blindness and/or endophthalmitis were more likely to be resolved in favor of the plaintiff. This information may give pediatric ophthalmologists insight into the situations and conditions that commonly lead to litigation.

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