A/Prof Cristina Morganti-Kossmann
April 10, 2018

Compensation in spinal cord injury: diagnosis vs treatment

Spinal cord injury is a devastating pathology often leading to severe disabilities and paralysis. Early diagnosis and best-suited treatment are critical to reduce secondary complications and optimise outcomes. Chronic Spinal Cord Injury involves a significant monetary and human cost for the individual affected and society at large. It is estimated that in the US rehabilitation of a Spinal Cord Injury patient reaches US $5.6. Therefore errors in diagnosis and treatments have a critical impact on patients’ lives and economics. When things go wrong and a patient suits a physician, the physician has the option to take the case to trial or choose for a settlement. The study described below brings crucial topics in this context. Malpractice lawsuits for spinal surgery have been analysed by Quigley et al from the Loma Linda University, CA in a retrospective study requested to medico-legal research service for civil and criminal court called “VerdictSearch” and published in the journal Spine. 01 June 2015 – Volume 40 – Issue 11 – p 851–855


Error of diagnosis vs error in treatment

Lawsuits were divided into error of diagnosis (48) vs error in treatment (25). The study assessed differences in compensation relative to demographics (age, gender), spinal tract affected (thoracic, cervical and lumbar), cost and medical speciality (defendant). The results show a higher compensation awarded for error in diagnosis rather than error in treatment, with the highest number of suits for surgeons against other medical specialities (emergency, neurology, etc.) but no differences in demographics. The median monetary award for a plaintiff verdict was found to be higher than that for a settlement ($2.90 million vs. $1.45 million). The compensation received varied and was greater (albeit not significant) for injuries to the thoracic spine ($1.9 million vs cervical spine $1.8 million and lumbar spine $750,000.

The study concluded: Physicians are more likely to successfully defend a lawsuit for an error in treatment than for an error in diagnosis. The key to increasing the success of defending a lawsuit in regard to spinal cord injury is to avoid delayed and incorrect diagnosis.

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