Nerve injury associated with anesthesia

Anesthesiology. 1990 Aug;73(2):202-7. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199008000-00002.


The authors examined the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Study database to define the role of nerve damage in the overall spectrum of anesthesia-related injury that leads to litigation. Of 1,541 claims reviewed, 227 (15%) were for anesthesia-related nerve injury. Ulnar neuropathy represented one-third of all nerve injuries and was the most frequent nerve injury. Less-frequent sites of nerve injury were the brachial plexus (23%) and the lumbosacral nerve roots (16%). In a large proportion of cases, the exact mechanism of injury was unclear despite evidence of intensive investigation in the claim files. Median payment for nerve damage claims involving disabling injury was $56,000, which was significantly lower than the $225,000 median payment for claims for disabling injury not involving nerve damage (P less than 0.01). The closed claims reviewers judged that the standard of care had been met significantly more often in claims involving nerve damage than in claims not involving nerve damage. The authors conclude that nerve damage is a significant source of anesthesia-related claims but that the exact mechanism of nerve injury is often unclear. In particular, ulnar nerve injuries seemed to occur without identifiable mechanism.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia / adverse effects*
  • Anesthesia / standards
  • Anesthesia, Conduction / adverse effects
  • Anesthesia, General / adverse effects
  • Brachial Plexus / injuries
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Lumbosacral Region
  • Male
  • Malpractice / economics
  • Nerve Block / adverse effects
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Nerve Roots / injuries
  • Ulnar Nerve / injuries