Cauda equina syndrome is 1 of a few true surgical emergencies involving the lumbar spine. Although treatment within 48 hours has been found to correlate with improved outcomes, recovery of bowel and bladder control does not always occur, and loss of these functions can be distressing to patients. An understanding of factors affecting the legal outcome can aid the clinician in determining risk management for medicolegal cases of cauda equina syndrome. This study is a retrospective analysis of medicolegal cases involving cauda equina syndrome. The LexisNexis Academic legal search database was used to obtain medicolegal cases of cauda equina syndrome to determine risk factors for adverse decisions for the provider. Outcomes data on trial verdicts were collected, as were associated penalties. Case data were also compiled on age, sex, initial presentation site, initial diagnosis, whether a rectal examination was performed, time to consultation with a specialist, time to completion of advanced imaging study, time to surgery, and neurosurgical vs orthopedic consultation. Based on our study of court cases involving cauda equina syndrome, a positive association was found between time to surgery >48 hours and an adverse decision (P<.05). The actual degree of functional loss did not appear to affect the verdicts. Because 26.7% of the cases involved an initial presentation that included loss of bowel or bladder control, this study emphasizes the importance of cautioning all patients with spinal complaints of the potential risk for cauda equina syndrome.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine