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Malpractice cases involving durotomy: an overview

Incidental durotomy is a condition that anyone in New Jersey planning to undergo spinal surgery should learn about. It refers to the small tears that surgeons can unintentionally cause on the dura mater, the tough outer membrane of the spinal cord. These tears can usually be recognized and repaired during the surgery, leading to no long-term effects. However, if they remain unrecognized or reopen after surgery, complications will ensue.

A durotomy can form the basis for a medical malpractice claim. However, a study published in the journal Spine has shown that of the 48 cases of incidental durotomy that it analyzed, most ended in a ruling in favor of the surgeon. The patients' allegations included belated or improper treatments, delayed diagnoses and the need for additional surgery.

The average age of the 24 male and 24 female patients was 55 years. In 60 percent of cases, patients reported physical weakness among their injuries while 20 percent suffered paralysis, brain damage or death. Eighty percent of the cases not involving neurological complications were settled in favor of the surgeon.

In 2016-adjusted dollars, patients were awarded an average of $2.8 million in damages. Seventy-three percent of the patients who alleged they received improper repairs received damages as did the 62 percent who alleged delays in diagnosis or treatment. Those who needed additional surgery were also more likely to receive damages.

These are important factors to consider when patients incur dural tears and wish to file a medical malpractice claim. Several requirements must be met in order for a claim to be successful. For example, it must be shown that the patient followed the doctor's instructions and that the doctor neglected an objective standard of care. To gather proof supporting their side, victims may require assistance from lawyers, who can request inquiries with the local medical boards. They can also have their attorneys negotiate for out-of-court settlements.

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