Background: Cardiothoracic surgery is one of the more highly litigated medical specialties. The incidence and outcomes of federal cases related to cardiac surgery have not been previously explored. Methods: A legal research service was queried for cardiac surgery-related terms. Citations and related documents were reviewed for relevance and case details. Inclusion criteria were federal district court cases involving cardiac operations. Exclusion criteria were rulings on solely procedural matters. Associations were explored using the Fisher exact test. Results: Of 354 unique citations from 1956 to 2017, 19.2% (n = 68) met criteria. The highest number of cases (25% [n = 17]) were litigated in the Third Circuit. Operations involved coronary artery bypass grafting in 33.8% (n = 23), valves in 32.4% (n = 22), and congenital operations in 19.1% (n = 13). Litigation was prompted by media reporting in 10.3% (n = 7) and involved neurologic injury in 17.6% (n = 12), death in 33.8% (n = 23), and informed consent issues in 29.4% (n = 20). Findings were summary judgment for the defendant in 45.6% (n = 31), partial summary judgment in 17.6% (n = 12), dismissal in 27.9% (n = 19), and ruling for the plaintiff in 7.4% (n = 5). Of the rulings for the plaintiffs, damages had a median dollar amount of $591,300 (interquartile range, $214,2673.50 to $5,807,687.00]. In Fisher's exact test analysis, neurologic injury was significantly associated with ruling for the plaintiff (p < 0.01); death, surgeon defendant, surgical decision-making/conduct, and adult cardiac case type were not associated. Conclusions: Federal cardiac malpractice court cases are rare. Rulings in favor of the plaintiff, although also rare, are associated with neurologic injury. A comprehensive picture of cardiac surgery-related litigation will require advances in data abstraction techniques and codification.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine