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Cataract complications and the potential of medical malpractice claims

Steven E. North, Esq. and Laurence M. Deutsch, Esq.


Cataract surgery often triggers some predictable but unfortunate adverse side effects, which bring a relatively high incidence of inquiries about potential medical malpractice claims to our office. People complain of a halo effect around lights, difficulty driving at night, glares that inhibit vision, blurred vision, the formation of film on the posterior capsule, dislocation of a lens fragment in the posterior eye, and impairment of visual acuity. In addition, patients claim that the wrong size or type of lenses have been implanted in their eyes to replace those marred by cataracts.

For the most part, it is difficult to establish liability in these cases. Many of the deleterious effects are traditional risks of the procedure and do not indicate medical malpractice. To establish a medical malpractice claim, it must be demonstrated that the physician was negligent in the care and treatment rendered and that the negligence resulted in significant permanent complications.

Furthermore, since most cataract surgery patients are elderly, the value of a case is limited. The pain and suffering claim when vision is impaired as a result of surgery is a function of one’s life’s expectancy, specifically how long a person would live with that condition. Consequently, an injury to someone in his or her early 20’s is not the same as one sustained by someone older than 50. What’s more, if a patient is either retired or not working, a claim would lack the lost-earnings component that might otherwise be associated with a visual impairment case.

Finally, if the condition is reversible by additional surgery or further lens replacement, then the damages are quite limited and often not worthy of prosecution by major malpractice law firms. Even though there might be malpractice in the above instances, there very often is not. Unless there is a concomitant serious permanent injury, it often is not worthwhile for a law firm to become involved in the prosecution of the matter.

On the other hand, failure deal a retinal issue emergently or in a timely manner is a different issue. Whether the retinal injury is related to cataract surgery or not, it can lead to powerful malpractice cases, particularly when a young person becomes blind. Retinal detachment, among other ophthalmologic emergencies, can occur in younger people and is amenable to successful treatment if addressed quickly. The failure to do so can result in substantial litigation, which this office has successfully handled.

Source: Allaboutvision.com