Systematic Review of Malpractice Litigation in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Stroke

Stroke. 2019 Oct;50(10):2858-2864. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.025352. Epub 2019 Aug 19.


Background and Purpose- The emergency management of stroke is complex and highly time-sensitive. Recent landmark trials demonstrating the strong benefit of thrombectomy have led to rapid change in stroke management. This article reviews a large number of medical malpractice lawsuits related to the emergency management of stroke to characterize factors involved in these lawsuits. Methods- Three large legal databases were used to search for jury verdicts and settlements in cases related to the acute care of stroke patients in the United States. Search terms included "stroke" and "medical malpractice." Cases were screened to include only cases in which the allegation involved negligence in the acute care of a patient suffering a stroke. Results- We found 246 medical malpractice cases related to the acute management of ischemic stroke and 26 related to intracranial hemorrhage. Seventy-one cases specifically alleged a failure to treat with tPA (tissue-type plasminogen activator) and 7 cases alleged a failure to treat, or to timely treat, with thrombectomy. Overall there were 151 cases (56%) which ended with no payout, 74 cases (27%) were settled out of court, and 47 cases (17%) went to court and resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff. The average payout in settlements was $1 802 693, and the average payout in plaintiff verdicts was $9 705 099. Conclusions- Malpractice litigation is a risk in acute stroke care and can lead to significant financial consequences. The majority of malpractice lawsuits related to the emergency management of stroke allege a failure to diagnose and failure to treat. Allegations of a failure to treat acute ischemic stroke with tPA were frequently found and are common in lawsuits. Allegations of a failure to treat a large vessel occlusion with thrombectomy were less frequently found. Given recent changes in practice guidelines and the demonstrated strong treatment effect of thrombectomy, it is likely that such litigation will increase in the coming years.

Keywords: guideline; intracranial hemorrhage; malpractice; risk; thrombectomy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / therapy*
  • United States