JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) General surgeons are among the most sued physicians, and hernia repair is one of the most common operations they perform, so a study was conducted to drill down into the legal data on hernia repair to determine what about the operation is most likely to get surgeons in trouble.

They found that a failure to diagnose a complication caused by damage to a nearby structure during the operation was the most common cause for a malpractice suit for hernia repair, Dr. Nadeem Haddad of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., reported at the Association for Academic Surgery/Society of University Surgeons Academic Surgical Congress.

“Hernia repair with more than 1 million cases annually is one of the most common surgical procedures,” Dr. Haddad said. “The most common type of operation for malpractice was inguinal hernia repair. The majority of cases were elective cases where the informed consent was not breached.”

The researchers sampled data on 250 malpractice cases arising from hernia surgery filed with the Westlaw Next legal database between 1985 and 2015, Dr. Haddad said. He added that the sample is not inclusive of all malpractice cases related to hernia repair in that time. “Our objective was to analyze reasons for litigation related to hernia repairs,” he said.

Among the hernia cases from the database, physicians (defendants) won 59%, patients (plaintiffs) won around 27%, and the remainder went to settlement before a verdict. Award payments ranged from $10,000 for a case where a Penrose drain was left in the patient to $16 million in the case of death of an infant due to perioperative hyperkalemia.

Eighty-four percent of the cases in the study involved inguinal or ventral hernia repair, Dr. Haddad said, but the Westlaw Next database did not differentiate between the two types of procedures. Nor did it separate out pediatric or adult repairs. Westlaw Next provides the alleged reason for litigation and gives details about lawsuits. The researchers classified the alleged reasons for the lawsuits based on the time period in which they happened: preoperatively, intraoperatively, and postoperatively.

“The single most common reason for malpractice in hernia repair was failure to diagnose a complication following damage to a surrounding structure,” Dr. Haddad said.

The state of New York had the highest number of medical malpractice cases (46), followed closely by California (42). In 15% of cases (38) the patients claimed a breach of informed consent by the surgeon

“While understanding the reasons why surgeons go to trial, the risk of future lawsuits may lessen if measures are enacted to prevent such outcomes,” Dr. Haddad said. “Following protocols in diagnosis and management, attention to good surgical technique, and keeping a checklist of possible complications are some of the ways to improve patients safety and decrease chances of litigation.”

Dr. Haddad and coauthors had no financial relationships to disclose.