Neurosurgeons are specialized physicians who practice within the field of neurology and diagnose as well as perform surgical procedures involving the central and peripheral nervous system. Neurology is made up of neurologists, neurosurgeons, as well as many other medical professionals who provide treatment for neurological disorders. While neurologists and neurosurgeons work within the same specialty, a neurologist diagnosis and treats conditions non-invasively whereas neurosurgeons specialize in invasive treatment.
The nervous system is comprised of a very complex network of threadlike nerves that carry messages back and forth between the brain and spinal cord throughout the body, including the sensory organs, arms, hands, legs, and feet. Neurosurgeons handle surgical procedures involving repair or correction of the nervous system.
The medical malpractice lawyers at our law firm are very familiar with medical negligence lawsuits and claims involving neurosurgeons. We have successfully sued neurosurgeons for medical malpractice in a number of cases. Neurosurgery lawsuits are always very complex and generally involve some type of surgical error claim. This page will look at what neurosurgeons do, why they get sued for medical malpractice and the average value of neurosurgery malpractice claims.
Like any other medical doctor, neurosurgeons first have to obtain a Medical Degree that generally takes four years to complete after a four year college degree. Neurosurgeons after graduating medical school must then complete a 5-7 year long neurosurgery residency program. After completion of residency, neurosurgeons can, but are not required to, complete a fellowship where they can further specialize in a particular subset of neurosurgery. Additionally, after completion of residency and optional fellowships, neurosurgeons are required to continue their education by attending annual meetings, conferences, conducting research, and keeping up with current advances within the neurosurgery specialty.
What do Neurosurgeons do?
Neurosurgery primarily involves the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions, illnesses, and injuries concerning the nervous system as well as its supporting structures. This may include, among others, conditions of the brain, spinal cord, the nerves themselves, skull, bones within the spine, spinal disks, as well as any supporting blood vessels, ligaments, and protective coverings of the nervous tissue.
Neurosurgeons work alongside neurologists and other medical professionals in providing patients comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care for complex disorders of the nervous system. Neurosurgeons provide intervention both surgically and non-surgically, depending upon the specific condition or injury. Conditions and problems that neurosurgeons treat may be congenital which are the result of abnormal birth development, degenerative which are from aging, traumatic as a result of injury, infectious, neoplastic from a tumor, or other medical conditions and diseases. Specific issues of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, skull, or spine may include tumors, spinal problems, peripheral nerve injuries, neurovascular disorders, brain disorders, infections, and traumatic injuries.
Any type of surgical procedure involving the brain, spine and nerves is going to be handled by a neurosurgeon. Some of the most common health conditions or disorders than can require neurosurgery include:
- Back Surgery: neurosurgeons perform back and spinal surgery to treat injuries and other conditions such as herniated discs, osteoarthritis, and spinal cord disorders.
- Brain Bleeds: neurosurgery is often used to treat or prevent strokes or other brain bleeds (cerebral aneurysms).
- Seizures: movement disorders such as epilepsy or other types of seizures involve the nervous system and are often treated by neurosurgeons.
- Other Neurologic Disorders: neurosurgeons are involved in the surgical treatment of many other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s diseases.
Malpractice Claims Against Neurosurgeons
Neurosurgery is fairly small field so it does not generate a large number of medical malpractice lawsuits such as other fields like obstetrics or general surgery. However, neurosurgeons face the highest malpractice risk level of any type of doctor.
A few years ago, the American Medical Association published the results of a comprehensive study on malpractice rates among physician specialties. The AMA study analyzed almost 300,000 paid medical malpractice claims. The malpractice risk level of various specialties was measured by the number of paid malpractice claims per 1,000 doctors in that field. Neurosurgery ranked #1 for malpractice risk level based on this metric, with 53 paid malpractice claims per 1,000 neurosurgeons. The average payout, settlement or verdict, for malpractice claims against neurosurgeons is approximately $250,000.
The malpractice insurance costs for neurosurgeons is accordingly quite high. Some neurosurgeons pay north of $150,000 a year for malpractice insurance. Below we include some example malpractice claims against neurosurgeons in Maryland with links to the plaintiffs’ stories of what happened in their cases.
Not surprisingly most medical malpractice claims against neurosurgeons involve some type of surgical error or negligence in connection with a surgical procedure. Surgical error probably accounts for about 75% of all neurosurgery cases. Neurosurgeons are also involved in diagnosing neurologic conditions and formulating treatment plans, so they occasionally get sued for misdiagnosis.
Neurosurgeon Verdicts and Settlements
Summarized below are recent verdicts and reported settlements from medical malpractice cases involving neurosurgeons. These case descriptions are provided for informational purposes only.
- Tatka v. Benitez (New Jersey 2019) $3 million: Middle-aged male plaintiff seeks treatment for headaches. He has an MRI that shows multiple brain lesions and a CT-scan that is suspicious for lung cancer. A second CT-scan and biopsy rules out lung cancer and he is transferred to defendant neurosurgeon for a brain biopsy. Defendant neurosurgeon is informed that despite initial suspicion, the plaintiff’s lungs are clear, but he incorrectly maintains in his records that plaintiff has lung cancer that is presumed to have spread to his brain. Due to this misunderstanding defendant fails to perform the brain biopsy until 9 days later where it is discovered that the plaintiff does not have brain cancer, but rather an infection in the brain. During the delay plaintiff suffers brain herniation causi
ng permanent and severe brain damage. Had the brain been biopsied sooner, his infection could have easily been resolved with drainage and antibiotic treatment. He sues the neurosurgeon alleging negligent delay in diagnosis of the brain infection. Case settled for $3 million.
- Plaintiff v. Pediatric Neurologist (New York 2019) $7,605,700 million: An infant is referred to hospital for suspected Bell’s palsy and an MRI is performed. The results are read by a neuro-radiologist who misdiagnoses her with Bell’s palsy and fails to recognize a structural lesion in her brain. Defendant pediatric neurosurgeon fails to even review the results where they could have recognized the lesion. As a result, a tumor is not diagnosed in her brain for over a year in which time it triples in size and leaves her with left-sided facial palsy and partial hearing loss. Plaintiff sues the radiologist for misreading the images and sues the neurosurgeon for failing to review the results and timely diagnosing the tumor. Case went to trial where a jury returned a verdict for $7,605,700 million.
- Paraplegic v. Neurosurgeon (Massachusetts 2017) $1 million: An 85-year-old male plaintiff has a tumor on his spinal cord that he has had since birth. Throughout his life, the tumor remained benign and is monitored rather than removed. In 2012, he begins to suffer from neurological deficits and comes under the care of the defendant neurosurgeon. Rather than remove the tumor, the neurosurgeon decides to treat him with steroid injections despite his worsening condition and fails to assess whether surgery would be in his best interest. The steroids initially seem to work, but then he loses the ability to move his legs. At this point, the neurosurgeon decides to perform the surgery on the tumor, but it is too late. Plaintiff is left with irreversible paraplegia as well as bladder dysfunction and neurological damage. He sues defendant neurosurgeon alleging negligence in failing to perform surgery instead of treating him via steroid injections. Case eventually settles for $1 million.
- Daley v. Thomas (Washington 2017) $1,219,052 million: A 42-year-old woman suffers from scoliosis that she has had since she was teenager. In 2011, her back pain becomes unbearable, so the defendant neurosurgeon performs a procedure on her to reduce the pain and improve her condition. The surgery does provide pain relief, but a mistake was made during the procedure that results in her suffering from a severe forward and left lean. The forward and left lean is ultimately corrected, but requires the aid of several spine surgeons and procedures over the course of the next three years. She sues the neurosurgeon for surgical error. The defendant refuses to settle and the case goes to trial where the jury returns a verdict to the plaintiff for $1,219,052 million.
Recent and Pending Neurosurgeon Lawsuits
Lawsuit against neurosurgeon and Sinai Hospital alleging they were negligent in performing unnecessary and improper back surgery procedure.
Neurosurgeon in Harford County is sued for improperly performing spinal fusion surgery to treat back injuries suffered in car accident.
Suit against neurosurgeon for failing to timely diagnose and perform surgery to treat plaintiff’s hematoma.
Neurosurgeon at GBMC sued for misplacing a screw in plaintiff during back surgery procedure.
Lawsuit against neurosurgeon and other defendants for alleging failing timely diagnose brain tumor.
Other Neurosurgery Malpractice Resources
When neurosurgeons are negligent it usually results in some type of neurologic injury to the patient. Learn about common types of neurologic injury malpractice claims and their average settlement value.
Contact Miller & Zois about Neurosurgeon Malpractice
If you have a potential medical malpractice claim against a neurosurgeon, Miller & Zois can help. Call us today at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.