The medicolegal impact of misplaced pedicle and lateral mass screws on spine surgery in the United States.


Spine surgery has been disproportionately impacted by medical liability and malpractice litigation, with the majority of claims and payouts related to procedural error. One common area for the potential avoidance of malpractice claims and subsequent payouts involves misplaced pedicle and/or lateral mass instrumentation. However, the medicolegal impact of misplaced screws on spine surgery has not been directly reported in the literature. The authors of the current study aimed to describe this impact in the United States, as well as to suggest a potential method for mitigating the problem.This retrospective analysis of 68 closed medicolegal cases related to misplaced screws in spine surgery showed that neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons were equally named as the defendant (n = 32 and 31, respectively), and cases were most commonly due to misplaced lumbar pedicle screws (n = 41, 60.3%). Litigation resulted in average payouts of $1,204,422 ± $753,832 between 1995 and 2019, when adjusted for inflation. The median time to case closure was 56.3 (35.2-67.2) months when ruled in favor of the plaintiff (i.e., patient) compared to 61.5 (51.4-77.2) months for defendant (surgeon) verdicts (p = 0.117).





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Publication Info

Sankey, Eric W, Vikram A Mehta, Timothy Y Wang, Tracey T Than, C Rory Goodwin, Isaac O Karikari, Christopher I Shaffrey, Muhammad M Abd-El-Barr, et al. (2020). The medicolegal impact of misplaced pedicle and lateral mass screws on spine surgery in the United States. Neurosurgical focus, 49(5). p. E20. 10.3171/2020.8.focus20600 Retrieved from

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Muhammad Abd-El-Barr

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery

As a Neurosurgeon with fellowship training in Spine Surgery, I have dedicated my professional life to treating patients with spine disorders. These include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, herniated discs and spine tumors. I incorporate minimally-invasive spine (MIS) techniques whenever appropriate to minimize pain and length of stay, yet not compromise on achieving the goals of surgery, which is ultimately to get you back to the quality of life you once enjoyed. I was drawn to medicine and neurosurgery for the unique ability to incorporate the latest in technology and neuroscience to making patients better. I will treat you and your loved ones with the same kind of care I would want my loved ones to be treated with. In addition to my clinical practice, I will be working with Duke Bioengineers and Neurobiologists on important basic and translational questions surrounding spinal cord injuries (SCI), which we hope to bring to clinical relevance.


Khoi Duc Than

Professor of Neurosurgery

I chose to pursue neurosurgery as a career because of my fascination with the human nervous system. In medical school, I developed a keen interest in the diseases that afflict the brain and spine and gravitated towards the only field where I could help treat these diseases with my own hands. I focus on disorders of the spine where my first goal is to help patients avoid surgery if at all possible. If surgery is needed, I treat patients using the most advanced minimally invasive techniques available in order to minimize pain, blood loss, and hospital stay, while maximizing recovery, neurologic function, and quality of life. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I am an avid sports fan and love to eat. I try to stay physically fit by going to the gym and playing ice hockey.

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