Common bile duct injuries during laparoscopic cholecystectomy that result in litigation
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Background: Iatrogenic common bile duct injury is the worst complication of laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The goal of this study is to increase awareness of the problem and educate surgeons about the consequences of these injuries.
Methods: A total of 46 bile duct injuries were analyzed by review of medical records, cholangiograms, videotapes, and surgeon statements. All cases were involved in malpractice litigation.
Results: All types of injuries were represented. There were 15 transections, 11 excisions, 6 lacerations, 8 clip impingements, 3 burns, 2 bile leaks, and 1 cystic duct leak. In all, 72% of these injuries occurred in elective cases in which there was no acute inflammation. Cholangiograms were performed in 16 cases, but they were misinterpreted in 11 of them. Injury type and severity was similar in patients with and without cholangiography. A total of 80% of these injuries were not detected at the initial surgery. The average delay in diagnosis was 10 days. Complications were worse in patients with delayed diagnosis. Primary surgeons had less successful outcomes from repairs than referral surgeons (27% versus 79%). In 86% of cases, litigation was resolved in favor of plaintiffs by settlement or verdicts. The average award was $214,000.
Conclusions: Factors that predispose to lawsuits include treatment failures in immediately recognized injuries, complications that result from delays in diagnosis, and misinterpretation of abnormal cholangiograms. Injury prevention can be improved by increased awareness of common mistakes. Improved cholangiographic technique and interpretation should decrease injury severity, delays in diagnosis, and subsequent morbidity.
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