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Medical Malpractice in Pediatric Orthopaedics

A Systematic Review of US Case Law

Galey, Scott A., MD*; Margalit, Adam, MD; Ain, Michael C., MD; Brooks, Jaysson T., MD

Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics: July 2019 - Volume 39 - Issue 6 - p e482–e486
doi: 10.1097/BPO.0000000000001348
Review Article

Background: Compared with other orthopaedic subspecialties, pediatric orthopaedic surgeons are thought to be at greater risk for malpractice claims; however, there is scant research on this topic. The purpose of our study was to characterize publicly available malpractice cases pertaining to pediatric orthopaedics to determine the (1) most common specialties of the physicians implicated, (2) most common diagnoses involved, (3) rate of verdicts in favor of the plaintiff, (4) amount of indemnity payments resulting from all verdicts versus verdicts in which only an orthopaedic surgeon was involved, and (5) outcomes of cases that were appealed.

Methods: The Westlaw legal database was queried for jury verdicts, settlements, and appellate cases using the search terms “pediatric” AND “orthopaedic” from December 31, 1984, to January 1, 2016, yielding 176 appellate court cases and 189 jury reports/settlements. After excluding duplicate cases and those involving patients aged 21 years or older, 36 appellate and 84 jury reports/settlement cases remained for analysis.

Results: Lawsuits against orthopaedic surgeons and pediatricians were most common, in cases involving fracture diagnosis and misdiagnosis of developmental dysplasia of the hip, respectively. Of the 84 cases, 43 rulings favored the plaintiffs. The median (interquartile range) indemnity payment was $900,000 ($1.9 million), and for cases in which only the orthopaedic surgeon was named as the defendant, the median (interquartile range) indemnity payment was $675,000 ($827,000). Of the 34 appellate cases, 16 cases initially ruled in favor of the defendant were upheld and 13 were reversed/remanded. Five cases initially ruled in favor of the plaintiff were upheld, and none was reversed/remanded.

Conclusions: Malpractice lawsuits named orthopaedic surgeons and pediatricians more often than physicians in other specialties. Orthopaedic surgeons were sued most often for management of fractures and pediatricians for mismanagement of developmental dysplasia of the hip. Nearly 51% of malpractice cases were ruled in favor of the plaintiff, with high indemnity payments. However, when cases that were ruled in favor of the physician were appealed, most verdicts were upheld.

Level of Evidence: Level IV.

*Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Children’s of Mississippi, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS

None of the authors received financial support for this study.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Jaysson T. Brooks, MD, Children’s of Mississippi, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39216. E-mail:

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