What Surgical Errors Can Lead to a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Surgical mistakes are unfortunately common in the United States. A study from the Institute of Medicine estimated that 44,000 to 98,000 patients are affected by medical and surgical errors every year.

What is a surgical error? It’s a medical mistake that could have been prevented. In some cases, patients can file medical malpractice lawsuits over surgical mistakes. Whether you can sue a doctor, another medical employee, or a medical facility for such an error depends on the circumstances that surround the surgical mistake.

What causes surgical errors?

Many people think surgical mistakes are caused by incompetent doctors. While this can happen, incompetence is actually the least common cause of surgical errors. More often, they result from inadequate procedures, poor work processes or mistakes in preoperative planning.

Some factors that can contribute to surgical errors include:

  • Poor preoperative planning: This can include a failure to evaluate the risks for a particular surgery or negligence in obtaining or reviewing patients’ complete medical histories, particularly reactions to medications.
  • Neglect: Medical instruments must be properly sterilized and in good working order. Contaminated or faulty instruments can cause life-threatening conditions such as infection or septic shock.
  • Miscommunication: There are a number of ways miscommunication can occur before, during and after surgery. One of the most common is accounting for equipment after a procedure, which can end in surgical sponges or other items being left inside a patient. Sometimes patients for surgery are misidentified, or have the wrong site marked for surgery. Drug dosage or patient reactions can be misread, resulting in severe complications.
  • Fatigue/Under the influence: Most medical personnel work long hours. Fatigue and/or lack of staff can be a contributing factor to surgical errors. In addition, occasionally doctors and medical staff may operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Incompetence: This is not a common factor, but in some cases surgical mistakes can be attributed to a physician who is not reasonably competent.

Common examples of surgical errors

Surgical mistakes not only happen during complex surgeries. In some cases, mistakes made during routine procedures can result in damaging surgical errors. There are many different types of surgical mistakes. Just a few examples are:

  • Wrong-site surgery such as left arm instead of right arm
  • Wrong-patient surgery (when patients are incorrectly identified and given surgery intended for someone else)
  • Leaving a medical instrument like a sponge, towel or scalpel inside a patient
  • Incorrect incisions leading to further damage, including organ perforation
  • Anesthesia mistakes causing reactions, oxygen deprivation, or even death
  • Improper feeding tube placement
  • Negligent post-surgery monitoring leading to blood clots

Is it medical malpractice?

There are some risks and potential complications present with nearly any type of surgery. Patients typically sign an implied consent document that outlines these known risks. When there is a problem arising from surgery that occurs outside these accepted risks, it may be considered medical malpractice.

The case can be made for medical malpractice if a patient is harmed as a result of a surgeon (or other medical staff) engaging in negligent conduct that falls below the accepted standard of care for surgeons practicing in the same area. There are many laws and regulations surrounding medical malpractice lawsuits and it’s best to work with an experienced attorney who understands your state’s laws.

The Miami trial lawyers at Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen have successfully represented many clients in medical malpractice lawsuits resulting from surgical errors. If you believe you may have a medical malpractice claim, contact us today.

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