This study aims to examine litigation trends with thyroidectomies in the United States from 1984 to 2018.
We used the Westlaw legal database to collect data on the defendant, plaintiff, case demographics, alleged reasons for malpractice, additional complications, and case outcomes.
The most common reason for litigation was vocal cord paralysis (51%, n = 28), with the majority ruling in favor of the defendant (64%, P = .042). Of those, 43% of cases (n = 12) were due to unilateral recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injury, and 39% (n = 11) were due to bilateral RLN injury. Of the claims due to vocal cord paralysis that resulted in indemnity payment (36%), the majority included additional damages, such as lack of informed consent (30%) or subsequent damages from permanent tracheostomy (40%), which is usually a result of bilateral nerve paralysis.
RLN injury was the most common complication leading to trial, with most cases ruling in favor of the defense. However, most verdicts that favored the plaintiff or those that settled were due to subsequent damages from bilateral nerve paralysis, such as permanent tracheostomy. We encourage surgeons to consider a staged procedure in high-risk cases or cases with signal loss. There needs to be a bigger emphasis on informed consent in the training of surgeons. Surgeons should educate patients at high risk on potential surgical complications that may drastically affect their quality of life.