Objective: The purpose of this study was to define the period of time after which delays in management incurred by investigations cause increased morbidity and mortality. The outcome study is intended to correlate time with death from esophageal causes, overall complications, esophageal related complications, and surgical intensive care unit length of stay. Methods: This was a retrospective multicenter study involving 34 trauma centers in the United States, under the auspices of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma Multi-institutional Trials Committee over a span of 10.5 years. Patients surviving to reach the operating room (OR) were divided into two groups: those that underwent diagnostic studies to identify their injuries (preoperative evaluation group) and those that went immediately to the OR (no preoperative evaluation group). Statistical methods included Fisher's exact test, Student's t test, and logistic regression analysis. Results: The study involved 405 patients: 355 male patients (86.5%) and 50 female patients (13.5%). The mean Revised Trauma Score was 6.3, the mean Injury Severity Score was 28, and the mean time interval to the OR was 6.5 hours. There were associated injuries in 356 patients (88%), and an overall complication rate of 53.5%. Overall mortality was 78 of 405 (19%). Three hundred forty-six patients survived to reach the OR: 171 in the preoperative evaluation group and 175 in the no preoperative evaluation group. No statistically significant differences were noted in the two groups in the following parameters: number of patients, age, Injury Severity Score, admission blood pressure, anatomic location of injury (cervical or thoracic), surgical management (primary repair, resection and anastomosis, resection and diversion, flaps), number of associated injuries, and mortality. Average length of time to the OR was 13 hours in the preoperative evaluation group versus 1 hour in the no preoperative evaluation group (p < 0.001). Overall complications occurred in 134 in the preoperative evaluation group versus 87 in the no preoperative evaluation group (p < 0.001), and 74 (41%) esophageal related complications occurred in the preoperative evaluation group versus 32 (19%) in the no preoperative evaluation group (p = 0.003). Mean surgical intensive care unit length of stay was 11 days in the preoperative evaluation group versus 7 days in the no preoperative evaluation group (p = 0.012). Logistic regression analysis identified as independent risk factors for the development of esophageal related complications included time delays in preoperative evaluation (odds ratio, 3.13), American Association for the Surgery of Trauma Organ Injury Scale grade >2 (odds ratio, 2.62), and resection and diversion (odds ratio, 4.47). Conclusion: Esophageal injuries carry a high morbidity and mortality. Increased esophageal related morbidity occurs with the diagnostic workup and its inherent delay in operative repair of these injuries. For centers practicing selective management of penetrating neck injuries and transmediastinal gunshot wounds, rapid diagnosis and definitive repair should be made a high priority.