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Medicolegal Aspects of Iatrogenic Dysphonia and Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Injury.

OBJECTIVE: To examine aspects of litigation involving iatrogenic dysphonia and injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve in the adult population.

STUDY DESIGN: Legal database review.

SETTING: Medicolegal judicial system.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Jury verdicts and settlement reports listing voice impairment or recurrent laryngeal nerve dysfunction as a primary injury in adult patients were identified in the Westlaw Database. Reports were examined for plaintiff demographics, defendant specialty, procedure performed, rates of settlements and verdicts, monetary awards, primary plaintiff symptoms, and common allegations.

RESULTS: A total of 123 jury verdict and settlement reports were identified. General surgeons (24%), otolaryngologists (20%), and anesthesiologists (18%) were involved in the majority of cases. The procedure causing the alleged injury was primarily thyroidectomy (34%), followed by intubation (18%) and spinal instrumentation (10%). The majority of cases (70%) were decided in favor of the defendant. Where monetary awards were recorded, settlements and jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiff ranged between $4250 and $3,000,000, with a mean of $788,713. In addition to voice disturbances, complaints of dyspnea and dysphagia were commonly listed alleged injuries. The only factors associated with plaintiff verdicts were general surgery specialty (odds ratio, 6.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.7-23.2) and claims of loss of consortium (odds ratio, 8.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-60.7).

CONCLUSION: Dysphonia is a common complication in a number of procedures across multiple specialties. Although the majority of cases are decided in favor or the defendant, payments awarded can be considerable. Awareness of factors involved in these medical malpractice cases can help limit physician liability.

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