Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery: Malpractice litigation outcomes

Grant A. Justin*, Scott E. Brietzke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objective: This study examined malpractice claims related to cleft lip and cleft palate surgery to identify common allegations and injuries and reviewed financial outcomes. Design: The WestlawNext legal database was analyzed for all malpractice lawsuits and settlements related to the surgical repair of cleft lip and palate. Main Outcomes Measures: Inclusion criteria included patients undergoing surgical repair of a primary cleft lip or palate or revision for complications of previous surgery. Data evaluated included patient demographics, type of operation performed, plaintiff allegation, nature of injury, and litigation outcomes. Results: A total of 36 cases were identified, with 12 unique cases from 1981 to 2006 meeting the inclusion criteria. Six cases (50%) were decided by a jury and six by settlement. Five cases involved complications related to the specific surgery, and the other seven were associated with any surgery and perioperative care of children and adults. Cleft palate repair (50%) was the most frequently litigated surgery. Postoperative negligent supervision was the most common allegation (42%) and resulted in a payout in each case (mean = $3,126,032). Death (42%) and brain injury (25%) were the most frequent injuries reported. Financial awards were made in nine cases (after adjusting for inflation, mean = $2,470,552, range = $0 to $7,704,585). The awards were significantly larger for brain injury than other outcomes ($4,675,395 versus $1,368,131 after adjusting for inflation, P = .0101). Conclusion: Malpractice litigation regarding cleft lip and palate surgery is uncommon. However, significant financial awards involving perioperative brain injury have been reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-79
Number of pages5
JournalCleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain injury
  • Cleft lip
  • Cleft palate
  • Litigation
  • Malpractice
  • Negligent postoperative supervision


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