Surgical Fires and Operative Burns: Lessons Learned From a 33-Year Review of Medical Litigation

Asad J. Choudhry, Nadeem N. Haddad, Mohammad A. Khasawneh, Daniel C. Cullinane, Martin D. Zielinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective We aimed to understand the setting and litigation outcomes of surgical fires and operative burns. Methods Westlaw, an online legal research data-set, was utilized. Data were collected on patient, procedure, and case characteristics. Results One hundred thirty-nine cases were identified; 114 (82%) operative burns and 25 (18%) surgical fires. Median plaintiff (patient) age was 46 (IQR:28–59). Most common site of operative burn was the face (26% [n = 36]). Most common source of injury was a high energy device (43% [n = 52]). Death was reported in 2 (1.4%) cases. Plaintiff age <18 vs age 18–50 and mention of a non-surgical physician as a defendant both were shown to be independently associated with an award payout (OR = 4.90 [95% CI, 1.23–25.45]; p = .02) and (OR = 4.50 [95% CI, 1.63–13.63]; p = .003) respectively. Plaintiff award payment (settlement or plaintiff verdict) was reported in 83 (60%) cases; median award payout was $215,000 (IQR: $82,000-$518,000). Conclusion High energy devices remain as the most common cause of injury. Understanding and addressing pitfalls in operative care may mitigate errors and potentially lessen future liability. Level of evidence III.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)558-564
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Medical malpractice
  • Operative burns
  • Surgical fires
  • Westlaw

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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