40% of interventional radiology lawsuits are nonmedical, with employment, disability the top disputes

Litigation involving interventional radiologists continues to increase. Medical-related lawsuits account for a majority of cases, but new research suggests that nonmedical lawsuits, such as contract disputes, are almost as prevalent.

That’s what Michigan Medicine and Emory University School of Medicine researchers found after scouring legal databases for IR-related U.S. federal and state lawsuits filed over a 35-year period. Medical malpractice suits accounted for 60% of filings, but the authors underscored that workplace allegations—such as employment, disability, and contract disputes—weren’t far behind, accounting for 40% of cases.

Interventional radiologists looking to quell their litigation concerns shouldn’t neglect employment risks, Casey Branch, MD, JD, with the Ann Arbor, Michigan, institution, and colleagues urged on Sunday.

“Although most published series of litigation involving physicians of a variety of specialties have focused exclusively on medical malpractice, our work indicates that non-malpractice lawsuits—and particularly those involving employment and disability disputes—are almost as common,” Branch et al. added in Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology. “These non-malpractice matters bring with them a variety of important legal issues that, as with medical malpractice, could also adversely impact a physician's livelihood.”

To reach their conclusions, the authors analyzed claims that moved beyond a trial court to an appellate court or involved nonroutine judicial opinions—known as complex litigation—between 1983 and 2018. Eighty-five such suits were included, with 51 (60%) involving medical malpractice. Vascular procedure allegations made up the largest chunk of medical suits.

The remaining lawsuits did not involve malpractice, but rather workplace issues, accounting for 34 cases (40%). Employment made up 61.8% of these allegations followed by disability disputes (11.8%), tax matters (8.8%), and contract disputes (5.9%), among others.

Branch et al. noted that IRs prevailed in 56.9% of medical malpractice cases, compared to 11.8% of workplace-related disputes.

Employment issues are common in medicine, with noncompete clauses growing more routine. But interventional rads must also navigate “pseudo-exclusive contracts,” in which those not employed by a large diagnostic-IR practice are prohibited from administering services that nonradiologist specialists—e.g., cardiologists and vascular surgeons—can perform, the authors noted.

Given that such specialists are performing a larger share of traditional interventional procedures, IRs should consult with a lawyer to better understand their situation before signing employment contracts. Interventional rads must also be savvy when shopping for disability insurance, the researchers noted.

“Our work, we believe, highlights how the intersection of law and medicine encompasses much more than just medical malpractice,” the authors noted. “For these reasons, interventional radiologists should engage experienced legal counsel to guide them in malpractice and non-malpractice legal matters alike, and additionally exercise due diligence in securing adequate and specialty-appropriate disability insurance.”