What Types of Surgical Errors Warrant a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

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Even the most routine surgical procedures carry an element of risk, including infections, uncontrolled bleeding, reactions to anesthesia, and postoperative complications. Prior to surgery, physicians should discuss the general risks of surgery with the patient, including those that may be specific to the procedure being performed. Despite the years of education and training that surgeons must complete, unexpected complications and mistakes can occur. Surgeons are human and capable of making mistakes.

Although a surgical error does not necessarily mean that the surgeon committed medical malpractice, a patient can file a medical malpractice lawsuit if the injury could have been avoided or if the surgeon was negligent in any way. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer will thoroughly review every detail of the case and recommend the best legal course of action.

If a medical mistake occurs, it does not necessarily mean that the medical professional is liable for medical malpractice. The patient must prove that the physician did not follow the appropriate standard of care, and the failure must be the cause of the injury. If the surgeon maintained the appropriate standard of care during every step of the procedure, it is unlikely that the patient will recover compensation for malpractice.

Why do Surgical Errors Occur?

Surgical errors are among the most common types of medical malpractice in the United States. In fact, according to research published in the medical journal, Surgery, there are more than 4,000 incidences of surgical errors in this country each year. The following are common causes of surgical errors that go beyond the known risk of the surgery:

  • Incompetence: Although it may be shocking to believe that surgeons would perform a particular procedure, even if they lack the skill or experience needed, this can happen. Mistakes can also occur if the surgeon has never performed the procedure before or has limited experience.
  • Lack of preoperative planning: Proper planning is a key factor in any successful surgery. If the surgeon fails to review the chart thoroughly, prepare nurses and assistants, and ensure that all equipment necessary for the procedure is ready, avoidable mistakes can happen.
  • Taking short cuts: Each step of a surgical procedure is necessary to ensure a safe and successful outcome. When a surgeon skips a step in the procedure to save time, or move on to another procedure, it can jeopardize the health and safety of the patient.
  • Poor communication: This can lead to a number of errors that can cause serious health risks to the patient. Examples include marking the wrong surgical site, failing to specify the appropriate dosage amount for a medication, and starting the surgery without all the necessary equipment on hand.
  • Fatigue: Surgeons are known for working long hours, and extreme fatigue can make a surgeon more likely to make a mistake.
  • Drugs/alcohol: Unfortunately, some surgeons cope with stress by using drugs or alcohol. Others may use drugs to help them stay awake during a long shift. Some even operate while under the influence.
  • Neglect: When a surgeon does not pay close attention to every detail during the surgery, mistakes can happen.

Common Types of Surgical Errors

The following are examples of surgical errors that could have been avoided, or are the result of negligence, in which case the injured patient has a right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit:

  • Wrong site: This occurs when a surgeon performs a surgical procedure on the wrong body part. An example would be if a patient is admitted to the hospital for knee replacement surgery for the left knee, but the surgeon performs the procedure on the right knee.
  • Wrong patient: This is less common than wrong site errors, but it does happen. This puts the patient through an unnecessary surgery, including the complications and recovery period.
  • Anesthesia errors: Anesthesiologists are responsible for monitoring and controlling the patient’s vital signs during and after surgery and ensuring that the appropriate medication is used so that the patient does not experience any pain while undergoing surgery. If too much or too little medication is administered, it can cause serious health complications.
  • Infection: This can occur if the surgeon uses surgical instruments that have not been properly sanitized. Patients who already have compromised immune systems can develop sepsis, a potentially fatal blood infection.
  • Misdiagnosis: This occurs when a patient has a surgical procedure for a misdiagnosed medical condition. The surgery put the patient through an unnecessary procedure and the risks associated with it.
  • Surgical instrument left inside the body: This happens more often than you might think. When a surgeon leaves a surgical instrument inside the body after the incision has been sutured, it can cause serious infections and other complications. Many hospitals require the surgical team to count all instruments before and after the procedure to ensure that no instruments have been left inside the patient; however, not all hospitals require this step.
  • Organ damage: If a surgeon punctures or perforates an internal organ that is close to the surgical site, it can cause severe health issues, particularly if major organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, or kidney, were affected. Depending on the injury, the patient can suffer serious, permanent damage.
  • Nerve damage: This is usually caused by a surgical instrument of an anesthesia error. If a physician loses grip on a scalpel or other sharp surgical instrument, it can cut a nerve. Anesthesia causes nerve damage if blood flow is blocked to the nervous system or to specific nerves during anesthesia, or if the needle used to administer the anesthesia hits nerve tissue. Nerve damage can cause temporary or permanent paralysis.
  • Medication errors: If a surgeon or other health care provider gives the wrong prescription to a patient, it can cause serious health complications. This can include dosage errors, incorrect medications, or failing to consider drug interactions with prescriptions the patient is currently taking.
  • Cross-contamination: The use of unsanitary surgical equipment can lead to cross-contamination of a disease or infection. For patients with immune systems that are compromised, this can be fatal.
  • Robotic surgery malpractice: In some cases, robotic devices that are controlled by the doctor are used during surgeries. Mistakes can happen if the surgeon is not properly trained in handling the device, resulting in the machine leaving items inside the patient’s body, or other serious mistakes. If the surgeon did not notify the patient that the robotic device was going to be used, and a surgical mistake occurred, it is grounds for a malpractice lawsuit.

Compensation in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

As mentioned, patients who wish to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit must prove that the surgeon’s treatment did not meet the standard of care that another health care provider with similar experience and training would have provided under similar circumstances, and that the negligence caused the harm. The injuries and health complications associated with a surgical error can result in costly medical bills, corrective procedures, and other damages associated. In extreme cases, the patient may die as a result of the surgeon’s negligence. Victims of surgical errors are entitled to financial compensation:

  • Current and future medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Physical therapy
  • Counseling
  • Living expenses
  • Disability
  • Transportation expenses
  • Loss of consortium

Compensation for Surviving Family Members

If a surgical error results in a fatality, the surviving family members may wish to pursue a wrongful death claim against the surgeon or the hospital. A wrongful death lawsuit compensates the surviving family members for the financial and emotional loss caused by the loss of their loved one. The deceased’s spouse, children, or parents are eligible to collect compensation for the following:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of financial support and benefits

The surviving family members may also seek survivor actions, which is compensation for damages that the deceased family member may have recovered if he or she had survived, including the following:

  • Medical expenses before the patient died
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering
  • Loss of income
  • Funeral expenses

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Surgical Errors

If you or a loved one was injured, or your health was compromised as a result of a surgical error, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will investigate the details of your case and determine whether the health care professional responsible for your care was negligent in any way. Our dedicated legal team will secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood and Elkridge.