Objective: To analyze the frequency, clinical characteristics, and legal outcomes of malpractice litigation initiated by patients with cancer of the larynx. Study Design: Retrospective review of 23 jury verdict reports from 11 states. Method: Jury verdict reviews from 1976 to 1997 were obtained from a computerized legal database compiled from all state and federal civil court decisions. Reviews compile pertinent data on defendants, plaintiffs, verdict outcomes, indemnity payments, allegations of wrongdoing, and provide case summaries. Results: Delays in diagnosis were alleged in 19 of 23 (83%) suits. Hoarseness was present in 10 of 19 (53%), a neck mass in 3 of 19 (16%), and no biopsy was taken in 11 of 19 (58%) of those delayed. Mean age was 47 years, with a peak incidence in the general population of 70 to 74 years. Laryngectomy was alleged to be a result or complication of delay in 12 of 19 (63%). Over half of the patients delayed received compensation, and over half of the defendants were in general practice. Outcome was poor with a 35% mortality and a total of 47% either dead of disease or alive with disease. Complications, incorrect diagnosis, and informed consent did not play a significant role in initiating litigation. Conclusions: The delayed diagnosis of cancer of the larynx associated with litigation is frequently seen in younger patients presenting with hoarseness or neck masses. These patients frequently have poor outcomes. Patients with symptoms of cancer of the larynx must be aggressively evaluated regardless of age. Risk management goals to prevent delays in diagnosis may help prevent subsequent litigation.
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