Background Laparoscopic surgery is safe and effective in the management of common abdominal emergencies. However, there is currently a lack of data about its use for emergency colorectal surgery. We hypothesized that laparoscopy can improve the postoperative outcomes of emergency restorative colon resection. Methods Adult patients undergoing emergent open and laparoscopic colon resection with primary anastomosis were retrieved from the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database for the years 2005 to 2008 inclusive. Demographic and operative characteristics, laboratory values, and postoperative outcomes were compared between patients undergoing laparoscopic and open colon resection using univariate analyses, multivariate logistic regression, and propensity score analyses. Results A total of 341 laparoscopic (9.6 %) and 3211 (90.4 %) open colon resections were included. Patients undergoing laparoscopic surgery had a significantly lower prevalence of co-morbidities and better postoperative outcomes. On multivariate analysis, laparoscopic surgery was an independent predictor of a longer operating time (p<0.001) and shorter total (p = 0.013) and postoperative (p = 0.004) hospital stays, but it did not affect the need for intraoperative blood transfusion (p = 0.488), the 30-day reoperation rates (p = 0.969), or mortality (p = 0.417). After adjusted propensity score analysis, postoperative morbidity (p = 0.833) and mortality (p = 0.568) were comparable in patients undergoing laparoscopic and open surgery. Conclusions On a national scale, laparoscopic emergent colon resections are being performed in a small number of patients, who have favorable co-morbidity characteristics and improved postoperative outcomes. Laparoscopic emergent colon resection with primary anastomosis has postoperative morbidity and mortality rates comparable to those seen with the open approach, and it reduces the total and postoperative length of hospital stay. © Société Internationale de Chirurgie 2012.