Lessons learned in otologic surgery: 30 years of malpractice cases in the United States

Douglas S. Ruhl*, Steven S. Hong, Philip D. Littlefield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Objective: To analyze malpractice litigation trends to better understand the causes and outcomes of suits involving otologic surgeries to prevent future litigation and improve physician awareness. Methods: Court records of legal trials from 1983 to 2012 were obtained from 2 major computerized databases-WESTLAW and LexisNexis. Data were compiled on the demographics of the defendant, plaintiff, use of otolaryngologists/otologists as expert witnesses, nature of injury, type of surgery, legal allegations, verdicts, and judgments. Results: Fifty-eight unique cases met inclusion criteria and were selected for review. The most common surgeries that went to trial were mastoidectomy (48%), ossiculoplasty (21%), and tympanoplasty (16%). Eleven (19%) of the cases were resolved through a settlement before a verdict was reached. Verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs (31%) were awarded an average of $1,131,189. The most common alleged injuries were hearing loss (45%) and facial nerve injury (38%). Of the cases found in favor of the plaintiff, the most common reasons cited were improper performance of the surgery (50%), failure to properly diagnose and treat (33%), and inadequate informed consent and delay in diagnosis (22% each). Case outcomes involving pediatric patients were not significantly different than those of adults (p = 0.34); however, adults received higher financial awards on average ($1 million versus $232,000; p < 0.0003). Conclusion: Obtaining an appropriate diagnosis, thoroughly discussing all options and potential risks, presenting realistic expectations, and executing the surgery correctly are crucial to patient care. Understanding the reasons surgeons go to trial may assist in mitigating risk for potential lawsuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1173-1179
Number of pages7
JournalOtology and Neurotology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Hearing loss
  • Lawsuit
  • Malpractice
  • Negligence
  • Otologic surgery


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