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Why are spine surgeons sued, and with what outcomes?

  • Epstein, Nancy E.1
  • Agulnick, Marc A.2
  • 1 Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, State University of NY at Stony Brook, NY, and Editor-in-Chief of Surgical Neurology International,
  • 2 Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedics, NYU Langone Hospital, Long Island, NY, USA, and 1122 Franklin Avenue Suit 106, Garden City, NY 11530.
Published Article
Surgical Neurology International
Scientific Scholar
Publication Date
Feb 10, 2023
DOI: 10.25259/SNI_1172_2022
PMID: 36895215
PMCID: PMC9990804
PubMed Central
  • Review Article


Background: Why are spine surgeons sued, how successfully, and for how much? Typical bases for spinal medicolegal suits have included; the failure to timely diagnose and treat, surgical negligence, (i.e. especially resulting in significant neurological deficits), and the lack of informed consent. We reviewed 17 medicolegal spinal articles looking for additional reasons for suits, along with identifying other factors contributing to defense verdicts, plaintiffs’ verdicts, or settlements. Methods: After confirming the same three most likely causes of medicolegal suits, other factors leading to such suits included; the lack of patient access to surgeons postoperatively, poor postoperative management (i.e. contributing to new postoperative neurological deficits), failure to communicate between specialists/surgeons perioperatively, and failure to brace. Results: Critical factors leading to more plaintiffs’ verdicts and settlements along with higher payouts for both included new severe and/or catastrophic postoperative neurological deficits. Conversely, defense verdicts were more likely for those with less severe new and/or residual injuries. The total number of plaintiffs’ verdicts ranged from 17-35.2%, settlements, from 8.3-37%, and defense verdicts from 27.7-75%. Conclusion: The three most frequent bases for spinal medicolegal suits continue to include; failure to timely diagnose/treat, surgical negligence, and lack of informed consent. Here, we identified the following additional causes of such suits; the lack of patient access to surgeons perioperatively, poor postoperative management, lack of specialist/surgeon communication, and failure to brace. Further, more plaintiffs’ verdicts or settlements and greater respective payouts were observed for those with new and/or more severe/catastrophic deficits, while more defense verdicts were typically rendered for patients with lesser new neurological injuries.

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