The purpose of this study was to examine colorectal cancer (CRC) malpractice suits over the past 20 years in the United States and evaluate the most common allegations, lawsuit outcomes, indemnity payment amounts, patient outcomes, and physician characteristics.
The malpractice section of VerdictSearch, a legal database, was queried for cases in which CRC was a principle component of the lawsuit. Legal notes were used to characterize plaintiff allegations, verdict, financial compensation, and case year. Clinical history for each case were analyzed for patient demographics, medical outcomes, and physician characteristics.
A total of 240 CRC-related malpractice cases (1988–2018) were collected, resulting in defense (n = 101, 42.1%), plaintiff (n = 37, 15.4%), or settlement (n = 96, 40%) verdict. The primary defendants were often primary care physicians (n = 61, 25.4%) and gastroenterologists (n = 55, 22.9%). Most common plaintiff allegations are failure to perform diagnostic colonoscopy for patients with symptoms (n = 67, 27.9%), failure to perform screening colonoscopy according to screening guidelines (n = 46, 19.2%), or failure to detect CRC with colonoscopy (n = 45, 18.7%). A common alleged error in diagnosis before the median year of 2005 was failure to detect CRC by the noncolonoscopic methods (<2005: n = 22, 24.2%; >2005: n = 3, 3.09%).
Plaintiff-alleged errors in diagnosis are consistently the most common reason for CRC malpractice litigation in the past 20 years, whereas specific diagnostic allegations (i.e., failure to screen vs failure to detect) and methods used for surveillance may vary over time. It is important to identify such pitfalls in CRC screening and explore areas for improvement to maximize patient care and satisfaction and reduce physician malpractice litigations.