Malpractice Litigation in Plastic Surgery: Can We Identify Patterns?

Samuel Sarmiento, Charles Wen, Michael A. Cheah, Stacey Lee, Gedge D. Rosson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Malpractice litigation has a significant impact on healthcare costs and important professional implications for healthcare providers. Objectives: The authors sought to comprehensively characterize the litigation landscape in plastic surgery across its different subspecialties. Methods: The authors utilized the Westlaw legal database to conduct a comprehensive search of malpractice cases in the United States in the following categories: cosmetic, reconstructive, hand, craniofacial, and gender affirmation surgery. They conducted both a Boolean and a natural language search to identify cases in which a plastic surgeon was the defendant. Data were analyzed employing descriptive statistics, logistic regression, and relative risk calculations. Results: In total, 165 cases were included. Most surgeons accused of malpractice worked in a private setting (148 [90%]). Among the 22 (13%) cases that contained information on board certification status, most surgeons were board certified (17 [77%]). Resident involvement was mentioned in only 5 (3%) cases. The majority of cases were successfully defended by surgeons (98 [60%] vs 65 [40%]), particularly in craniofacial surgery (risk ratio: 1.54; P = 0.03; 95% CI: 1.03-2.3). Surgeons who successfully defended a case were more likely to benefit from summary judgment (P = 0.005). Conclusions: Malpractice litigation is commonplace in medical practice, and no specialty is spared. Legal outcomes were in favor of plastic surgeons in the majority of cases, particularly those that proceeded to summary judgment. Surgeons can avoid litigation by maintaining detailed office and surgical notes, always obtaining informed consent, adequately following and monitoring patients after surgery, and ensuring compliance by communicating frequently and effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)NP394-NP401
JournalAesthetic surgery journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 16 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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