Carotid artery disease is a common illness that can pose a significant risk if left untreated. Treatment via carotid endarterectomy (CEA) or carotid artery stenting (CAS) can also lead to complications. Given the risk of adverse events related to treating, or failing to treat, carotid artery disease, this is a possible area for litigation. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the medicolegal factors involved in treating patients suffering carotid artery disease and to compare litigation related to CEA and CAS.
Three large legal databases were used to search for jury verdicts and settlements in cases related to untreated carotid artery disease, CEA, and CAS. Search terms included “endarterectomy,” “medical malpractice,” “carotid,” “stenosis,” “stenting,” “stent,” and combinations of those words. Three types of cases were considered relevant: 1) cases in which the primary allegation was negligence performing a CEA or perioperative care (CEA-related cases); 2) cases in which the primary allegation was negligence performing a CAS or perioperative care (CAS-related cases); and 3) cases in which the plaintiff alleged that a CEA or CAS should have been performed (failure-to-treat [FTT] cases).
One hundred fifty-four CEA-related cases, 3 CAS-related cases, and 67 FTT cases were identified. Cases resulted in 133 verdicts for the defense (59%), 64 settlements (29%), and 27 plaintiff verdicts (12%). The average payout in cases that were settled outside of court was $1,097,430 and the average payout in cases that went to trial and resulted in a plaintiff verdict was $2,438,253. Common allegations included a failure to diagnose and treat carotid artery disease in a timely manner, treating with inappropriate indications, procedural error, negligent postprocedural management, and lack of informed consent. Allegations of a failure to timely treat known carotid artery disease were likely to lead to a payout (60% of cases involved a payout). Allegations of procedural error, specifically where the resultant injury was nerve injury, were relatively less likely to lead to a payout (28% of cases involved a payout).
Both diagnosing and treating carotid artery disease has serious medicolegal implications and risks. In cases resulting in a plaintiff verdict, the payouts were significantly higher than cases resolved outside the courtroom. Knowledge of common allegations in diagnosing and treating carotid artery disease as well as performing CEA and CAS may benefit neurosurgeons. The lack of CAS-related litigation suggests these procedures may entail a lower risk of litigation compared to CEA, even accounting for the difference in the frequency of both procedures.