Background: Although ventral hernia repair is increasingly performed laparoscopically, complication rates with this procedure are not well characterized. For this reason, we performed a prospective study comparing early outcomes after laparoscopic and open ventral hernia repairs. Methods: We identified all the patients undergoing ventral (including incisional) hernia repair at a single tertiary care center between September 1, 1999 and July 1, 2001 (overall n = 257). To increase the homogeneity of the sample, we excluded umbilical hernia repairs, parastomal hernia repairs, nonelective procedures, procedures not involving mesh, and repairs performed concurrently with another surgical procedure. Postoperative complications (in-hospital or within 30-days) were assessed prospectively according to standardized definitions by trained nurse clinicians. Results: Of the 136 ventral hernia repairs that met the study criteria, 65 (48%) were laparoscopic repairs (including 3 conversions to open surgery) and 71 (52%) were open repairs. The patients in the laparoscopic group were more likely to have undergone a prior (failed) ventral hernia repair (40% vs 27%; p = 0.14), but other patient characteristics were similar between the two groups. Overall, fewer complications were experienced by patients undergoing laparoscopic repair (8% vs 21%; p = 0.03). The higher complication rate in the open ventral hernia repair group came from wound infections (8%) and postoperative ileus (4%), neither of which was observed in the patients who underwent laparoscopic repair. The laparoscopic group had longer operating room times (2.2 vs 1.7 h; p = 0.001), and there was a nonsignificant trend toward shorter hospital stays with laparoscopic repair (1.1 vs 1.5 days; p = 0.10). Conclusions: The patients undergoing laparoscopic repair had fewer postoperative complications than those receiving open repair. Wound infections and postoperative ileus accounted for the higher complication rates in the open ventral hernia repair group. Otherwise, these groups were very similar. Long-term studies assessing hernia recurrence rates will be required to help determine the optimal approach to ventral hernia repair.