Analysis of lawsuits filed against emergency physicians for point-of-care emergency ultrasound examination performance and interpretation over a 20-year period

Am J Emerg Med. 2012 Feb;30(2):338-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.12.016. Epub 2011 Jan 28.


Objective: The study aims to define extent of lawsuits filed against emergency physicians (EPs) over point-of-care emergency ultrasound (US) during the last 20 years.

Methods: We performed a nationwide search of the WESTLAW legal database for filed lawsuits involving EPs and US. WESTLAW covers all state and federal lawsuits dating back to 1939. Using an electronic search feature, all states were searched using emergency and US as key words. The database automatically accounts for different variants on US such as sonography. An attorney who is also boarded in and practices emergency medicine, as well as an emergency US expert, reviewed returned cases. Descriptive statistics were used to evaluate the data.

Results: Using the search criteria and excluding obvious radiology suits, 659 cases were returned and reviewed. There were no cases of EPs being sued for performance or interpretation of point-of-care US. There was one case alleging EP failure to perform point-of-care US and diagnose an ectopic before it ruptured. This case was won by the defense. There were no cases against EPs for common causes of radiology and obstetric litigation including sexual assault during endovaginal US. Cases of missed testicular torsion on US were frequent in the emergency setting but none linked EP US.

Conclusions: Only one case filed against EPs over the last 2 decades was identified, it was over failure to perform US. Most frequent litigations against radiologists and obstetricians are unlikely to be duplicated in the emergency department, and future litigations may also come from EP failure to perform point-of-care US.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Point-of-Care Systems / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography* / adverse effects
  • Ultrasonography* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States