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LASIK Ophthalmologic Malpractice: A Primer on Categories of Claims/Lawsuits

For Immediate Release: June 30, 2019

Contact: Craig M. Sandberg, 833.726.3237, craig@sandberglaw.com

Chicago, IL – Recently, a fellow attorney asked about ophthalmologic malpractice involving LASIK surgery. He knew many friends and colleagues who have touted the wonderful results experienced from their new-found "spectacle independence". LASIK is the most commonly performed laser eye surgery to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism. The word "LASIK" is an acronym for "laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis." With the assistance of literature form the insurance industry, below are four broad categories of claims related to LASIK malpractice claims.

More than a decade ago, Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company ("OMIC"),  a nationwide malpractice carrier associated with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, described four categories (or causes) of LASIK malpractice claims/lawsuits: (1) clinical issues, (2) systems issues, (3) provider issues, and (4) patient issues. See OMIC Digest, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Fall 2008).

Clinical issues occurred in 275/539 claims. Preoperative care "was the focus in 83 of 196, or 42%, of LASIK claims." In particular, plaintiffs alleged contraindications to refractive surgery, especially clinical and topographical signs of forme fruste keratoconus, pellucid marginal degeneration, and other corneal problems. Other preop issues include candidacy for retreatment, monovision trials and candidacy, and the interval between retreatments. Only 8 of 39, or 20%, of the allegations focused on preop care in PRK claims; preoperative assessment and choice of procedure were the main issues." Id.

Systems issues occurred in 159/539 claims. They include: equipment-related issues 30%, informed consent 28%, co-management allegations 23%, and misidentification (patient, procedure, and/or laser setting) 11%.

Provider issues occurred in 80/539 claims. "The most common provider issue in LASIK claims involved documentation; lack of documentation was the problem 85% of the time. Failure to perform needed tests and evaluations was alleged in 21% of claims." Problems with physician skill or knowledge account for 16% of provider issues. Finally, choosing the appropriate flap thickness accounts for 11% of provider issues. Id.

Patient issues occurred in 25/539 claims and, thus, accounted for the smallest portion of LASIK malpractice claims. "Defense expert witnesses did not feel patients played a significant role in the outcome of LASIK procedures, pointing to issues in only 25 claims. noncompliance occurred in 9 and personality issues in 8. Unsubstantiated complaints and self-inflicted injury (head movement, rubbing, scratching) were found in 4 cases each." Id.

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