Research uncovers growing rate of laser surgical errors

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Researchers studying the incidence of malpractice litigation involving cutaneous lasers found an increase of cases between 1985 and 2012 with the highest incidence in 2010. The research team used a legal database to identify 174 cases involving injury related to cutaneous laser surgical errors. They found that 146 of these cases were brought against physicians despite laser operation by non-physicians in nearly 40 percent of cases.

Results of the study suggest that physicians could reduce the potential for injury and their resultant liability by ensuring that laser operators be fully licensed and certified. However, it was also pointed out that some states, including New York, have no laser operator licensing requirement. Cutaneous laser regulations have so far been left to the states with no federal input on clinical supervision or operator training.

The problem is a significant one for physicians and other health care providers as well as patients. Of the 174 cases in the study, researchers found information on the final disposition of only 120. A slim majority of these cases resulted in either out-of-court settlement or damages, ranging from $5,000 to over $2 million, awarded to the injured plaintiff. The most common defendants were plastic surgeons and dermatologists who together faced 47 percent of the malpractice lawsuits. Burn injury and scarring were the most commonly listed damages.

Lasers offer a less invasive method of treating some medical issues, such as varicose veins, and a potentially less painful manner of cosmetic surgery. However, the severity of the risks involved in these procedures is all too often not discussed with patients. Regardless of the operator or type of procedure, people in New York who are injured may seek compensation with the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney.

Source: MedPage Today, “Malpractice: Laser Surgery Lawsuits Surge,” Nancy Walsh, Feb. 20, 2013

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