Background: The authors used the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project database to identify specific patterns of injury and legal liability associated with regional anesthesia. Because obstetrics represents a unique subset of patients, claims with neuraxial blockade were divided into obstetric and nonobstetric groups for comparison.
Methods: The American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project is a structured evaluation of adverse anesthetic outcomes collected from closed anesthesia malpractice insurance claims of professional liability companies. An in-depth analysis of 1980-1999 regional anesthesia claims was performed with a subset comparison between obstetric and nonobstetric neuraxial anesthesia claims.
Results: Of the total 1,005 regional anesthesia claims, neuraxial blockade was used in 368 obstetric claims and 453 of 637 nonobstetric claims (71%). Damaging events in 51% of obstetric and 41% of nonobstetric neuraxial anesthesia claims were block related. Obstetrics had a higher proportion of neuraxial anesthesia claims with temporary and low-severity injuries (71%) compared with the nonobstetric group (38%; P <or=0.01) and a lower proportion of claims with death or brain damage and permanent nerve injury compared with the nonobstetric group (P <or= 0.01). Cardiac arrest associated with neuraxial block was the primary damaging event in 32% of obstetric and 38% of nonobstetric neuraxial anesthesia claims involving death or brain damage. Eye blocks accounted for 5% of regional anesthesia claims.
Conclusion: Obstetric claims were predominately associated with minor injuries. Permanent injury from eye blocks increased in the 1990s. Neuraxial cardiac arrest and neuraxial hematomas associated with coagulopathy remain sources of high-severity injury.