Malpractice Litigation for Compartment Syndrome

John Phair, Matthew Carnevale, Larry A. Scher, Karan Garg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: The aim of this study was to analyze litigation involving compartment syndrome to identify the causes and outcomes of such malpractice suits. A better understanding of such litigation may provide insight into areas where clinicians may make improvements in the delivery of care. Methods: Jury verdict reviews from the Westlaw database from January 1, 2010 to January 1, 2018 were reviewed. The search term “compartment syndrome” was used to identify cases and extract data on the specialty of the physician defendant, the demographics of the plaintiff, the allegation, and the verdict. Results: A total of 124 individual cases involving the diagnosis of compartment syndrome were identified. Medical centers or the hospital was included as a defendant in 51.6% of cases. The most frequent physician defendants were orthopedic surgeons (45.96%) and emergency medicine physicians (20.16%), followed by cardiothoracic/vascular surgeons (16.93%). Failure to diagnose was the most frequently cited claim (71.8% of cases). Most plaintiffs were men, with a mean age of 36.7 years, suffering injuries for an average of 5 years before their verdict. Traumatic compartment syndrome of the lower extremity causing nerve damage was the most common complication attributed to failure to diagnose, leading to litigation. Forty cases (32.25%) were found for the plaintiff or settled, with an average award of $1,553,993.66. Conclusions: Our study offers a brief overview of the most common defendants, plaintiffs, and injuries involved in legal disputes involving compartment syndrome. Orthopedic surgeons were most commonly named; however, vascular surgeons may also be involved in these cases because of the large number of cases with associated arterial involvement. A significant percentage of cases were plaintiff verdicts or settled cases. Failure to diagnosis or delay in treatment was the most common causes of malpractice litigation. Compartment syndrome is a clinical diagnosis and requires a high level of suspicion for a timely diagnosis. Lack of objective criteria for diagnosis increases the chances of medical errors and makes it an area vulnerable to litigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-147
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of Vascular Surgery
StatePublished - Aug 2020


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