Surgical malpractice is a type of medical malpractice that refers to improper, negligent, or illegal actions performed by a surgeon, resulting in errors or mistakes that lead to patient injury. Surgical errors are a common cause of injuries every year in the United States and can be attributed to several frequently occurring types of surgical errors and mistakes. If you or a loved one has suffered severe injuries due to mistakes or errors made during a medical procedure, request a free case evaluation from an attorney at Brown & Crouppen Law Firm. Since 1979, our medical malpractice lawyers have helped clients recover over $1 Billion in compensation including those who have suffered from injuries from surgical procedures.
At the Brown & Crouppen Law Firm, we operate on a contingency-basis, meaning there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid. If you or someone you know is suffering from injuries as a result of surgical mistakes, request a free case evaluation to get help from a surgical error attorney to pursue compensation and hold the liable medical provider or professional accountable.
Each year, nearly 234 million people across the world will enter a surgical suite to have a procedure, 50 million in the United States alone. Sometimes emergent, sometimes elective, the fact remains that during a surgery, you quite literally hand your life to a team of professionals whose goal is to keep you alive and perform a successful operation. Some procedures are relatively simple, others quite complex. Advances in modern medicine have proven beneficial in reducing errors in the operating room, but inevitably, some still occur.
Thankfully, protocols and safeguards by hospitals and surgical facilities have dramatically reduced the number of errors that are made during surgical procedures, although all surgeries carry a degree of risk. Ranging from minimal to life-threatening, it is important to know the risks and what to do if something untoward does occur during your procedure.
Common Types of Surgical Errors & Mistakes
The media is quick to illuminate cases of severe surgical error. For instance, the patient who had an incorrect limb amputated, a patient who didn’t need to have surgery at all, but did, the patient who went in for a relatively easy procedure and lost their life. While these scenarios can (and have) occurred, their prevalence is very, very, rare. However, an injury does not have to be catastrophic to be considered a surgical error. Below are the common types of surgical mistakes:
- Wrong site surgery – Occurs when a surgery is performed on the wrong body part. Prior to surgery, the medical team will identify and mark the part of the body that will be operated on. It is very important that you, as the patient, note the location and speak up if it is incorrect. Often the site will be marked in the pre-operative area, and again confirmed before anesthesia is given in the operating room. “Time-outs” or a complete halt by the medical team immediately before the surgery will also be performed to ensure patient identification, site confirmation, as well as the type of procedure. This implementation has drastically reduced errors since it’s inception.
- Anesthesia errors – One of the most common surgical errors that have the highest consequences. Difficulty with anesthesia can disrupt the oxygen flow to vital organs, including the brain. Common errors include giving too much anesthetic medication which can lead to oxygen deprivation to the brain and even death. Too little anesthesia may result in the patient waking up during surgery or feeling pain through the entire procedure. Additional complications may include allergic reaction, adverse effects following removal and increased infection rates.
- Retained foreign bodies – Perhaps the most common surgical mistake, a retained foreign body is noted as either an instrument, or assistive device that it left in the body when performing a surgery. Sponges are notoriously common. To prevent this, strict equipment counts are utilized to ensure that whatever is used during the surgery is also accounted for before the body is closed. Failure to obtain all items used in surgery before closure, will result in the need for a second surgery to remove the item.
- Nerve/Organ damage – Although rare, nerve damage can be caused by improper positioning of the patient on the operating table. It may also be caused by direct insult to the nerve itself if cut or pinched during the procedure. Organ damage may also be affected by direct contact with the affected organ. Additionally, medication (either anesthesia or preventative antibiotics) increases the risk of organ complications. The increasing use of robotics during procedures have made this complication much more common in the past years.
- Infection – The sterilization of equipment is of utmost importance when a surgery is performed. Not only should all equipment and tools be handled in a sterile manner but monitoring for after the procedure is complete is imperative to a good recovery as well.
- Bleeding – Regardless of the surgery being performed there is a risk for bleeding. However, errors occur when the surgeon or operating team is not prepared to handle unexpected bleeding in the operating room. Each patient should be blood typed prior to surgery, with reserves on standby should bleeding occur. In addition, the surgeon should be skilled in identifying and eliminating the causes of bleeding without risking circulation.
- Failure to diagnose – Surgeries that are performed with the goal of looking for disease processes is a crucial part of a physician’s job. These surgeries are called exploratory, and they are typically geared toward looking for a medical cause of a patient’s symptoms. Sometimes a completely unrelated surgery can lead to an alternative diagnosis as well, this is seen a lot with cancer diagnoses. Misdiagnosis can occur when a patient is told they have a disease process and they really don’t, or if the diagnosis is made too late, and the client is unable to receive treatment in a timely manner.
While this is not an all-inclusive list of errors that may occur during surgery, they are the most common errors that do occur. Nearly 4,000 surgical errors are reported in the United States each year. It is important to speak with an attorney right away if you believe an error has occurred, or if your surgeon tells you directly that an error occurred.
Remember, just because a surgery did not have a desired outcome, or complications arose, does not necessarily evidence medical negligence. If the surgeon acted in his or her capacity and delivered the care as a similarly trained professional would have then malpractice did not occur. The medical malpractice attorneys at Brown & Crouppen can help determine if you are eligible to receive compensation and build a strong case to support your medical malpractice claim to hold negligent medical professionals accountable for their actions.
Determining How Much a Surgical Error Claim is Worth
It is important to recognize that each surgical claim is valued differently, based on the unique situation of the error that occurred. Just as each patient is different, each case will be different as well. Compensation may include not only awards for the injury that occurred, but the cost of future medical care, especially in circumstances in which the patient is no longer able to care for themselves.
Average figures have shown that settlements may appear in the following ranges:
- Wrong procedure – $232,035
- Wrong-site – $127, 159
- Wrong patient – $109,648
- Retained foreign body – $86,247
Data Source: Surgical never events in the United States
Payouts for medical malpractice lawsuits resulting from surgical errors are dependent on several factors: (1) the type of error that occurred, (2) the long-term effects of the error, (3) the associated medical costs both immediate and in the future, and (4) long term pain and suffering compensation. Your attorney will work closely with their team and your family to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Legal Considerations for Lawsuits Against Doctors & Surgeons
Surgical error lawsuits fall under the category of medical malpractice, and the legal process can be confusing and lengthy. Obtaining early representation ensures that the case meets the legal requirements before a case is filed.
The legal elements that must be proven include:
- Duty (a professional duty was owed to the patient),
- the medical professional breached that duty, and in so doing caused
- Injury and
- resulting damages ensued.
The timing of filing a medical malpractice claim is extremely important. Each state has their own statute of limitations that must be followed otherwise the case will not be considered and the patient loses their right to bring a suit in the future.
For example, in Missouri, the following restrictions apply (Missouri Statute 516.105):
- General statute of limitation is 2 years, meaning a patient has two years from the date of injury to file a complaint with the court.
- In the case of a retained instrument, the court allows two years from the date the instrument was discovered, not necessarily the date the instrument was left in the body.
- In the case of misdiagnosis, the court allows two years from the date of the discovery that a patient was misinformed about medical tests.
- Additionally, any minor has until his or her twentieth birthday to bring such action.
- Under no circumstance will any case be allowed to be filed after a period of 10 years
Request A Free Case Evaluation from Brown & Crouppen Law Firm
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a surgical procedure, you may have the right to pursue financial compensation for hospital costs, your loved one’s lost wages, and pain and suffering. Getting started is easy. You can call us at 800-536-4357 for a free consultation, or tell us about your case with our free case review form. And remember, there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid.
Related Practice Areas
- Medical Malpractice