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Anaphylaxis-related Malpractice Lawsuits

  • Author(s): Lindor, Rachel A.
  • McMahon, Erika M.
  • Wood, Joseph P.
  • Sadosty, Annie T.
  • Boie, Eric T.
  • Campbell, Ronna L.
  • et al.
Abstract

Introduction: Anaphylaxis continues to cause significant morbidity and mortality. Healthcare providers struggle to promptly recognize and appropriately treat anaphylaxis patients. The goal of this study was to characterize anaphylaxis-related malpractice lawsuits.

Methods: We collected jury verdicts, settlements, and court opinions regarding alleged medical malpractice involving anaphylaxis from May 2011 through May 2015 from an online legal database (Thomson Reuters Westlaw). Data were abstracted onto a standardized data form.

Results: We identified 30 anaphylaxis-related malpractice lawsuits. In 80% of cases, the trigger was iatrogenic (40% intravenous [IV] contrast, 33% medications, 7% latex). Sixteen (53%) cases resulted in death, 7 (23%) in permanent cardiac and/or neurologic damage, and 7 (23%) in less severe outcomes. Fourteen (47%) of the lawsuits were related to exposure to a known trigger. Delayed recognition or treatment was cited in 12 (40%) cases and inappropriate IV epinephrine dosing was reported in 5 (17%) cases. Defendants were most commonly physicians (n=15, 50%) and nurses (n=5, 17%). The most common physician specialties named were radiology and primary care (n=3, 10% each), followed by emergency medicine, anesthesiology, and cardiology (n=2, 7% each). Among the 30 cases, 14 (47%) favored the defendant, 8 (37%) resulted in findings of negligence, 3 (10%) cases settled, and 5 (17%) had an unknown legal outcome.

Conclusion: Additional anaphylaxis education, provision of epinephrine autoinjectors or other alternatives to reduce dosing errors, and stronger safeguards to prevent administration of known allergens would all likely reduce anaphylaxis-related patient morbidity and mortality and providers’ legal vulnerability to anaphylaxis-related lawsuits.

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