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Sleep surgery and medical malpractice


  • Abstract presented at the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation 2013 Annual Meeting and OTO EXPO, Vancouver, BC, Canada, September 29–October 2, 2013.

  • The authors have no funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.



To describe and analyze the causes and outcomes of lawsuits pertaining to sleep surgery to mitigate future litigation and improve physician education.

Study Design

A retrospective review of a publicly available database containing jury verdicts and settlements.


The LexisNexis MEGA Jury Verdicts and Settlements database was reviewed for all lawsuits including settlements and trial verdicts related to sleep surgery. Data including type of surgery performed, plaintiff allegation, nature of injury, outcomes, and indemnities were collected and analyzed.


Fifty-one cases met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 30 were decided by a jury, nine were settled out of court, and 10 were resolved by other means. Overall, 57% of known outcomes favored the defendant. The most common surgery performed was tonsillectomy (57%), followed by uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (45%), adenoidectomy (31%), and septoplasty (31%). No difference was found between outcomes when comparing the most common injuries cited, including wrongful death (P = .572), airway compromise (P = .376), and drug reaction (P = .443). If failure to recognize a complication (P = .034) or delay in diagnosis (P = .026) was a component of the legal allegations, the outcome significantly favored the plaintiff. The median settlement ($545,000) and plaintiff award ($1.45 million) were not significantly different (P = .13).


The majority of outcomes favored the defendant. Type of injury did not predict outcome. Failure to recognize complications and delay in diagnosis strongly predicted a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Level of Evidence

2c Laryngoscope, 124:E250–E254, 2014