Over 200 million surgical procedures are performed each year globally, and regardless of the awareness of adverse effects, surgical errors still occur at an alarmingly high rate. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in the United States alone, a minimum of 4,000 surgical errors take place each year. 

Although most surgeries that are performed in the U.S. go well, sometimes serious mistakes occur during surgery due to the negligence of a medical professional. When this occurs, you may be able to file a medical malpractice claim and seek compensation for your damages. 

No matter the severity of your surgery, the last thing a patient wants to hear is that an error occurred. However, just because an error occurred does not automatically mean that it was due to medical malpractice. Throughout this article, you will find information that will detail different types of surgical errors, help you determine when a surgical error amounts to medical malpractice and if your case qualifies for compensation.

Surgical Errors

Simply put, a surgical error is a preventable mistake that occurs during surgery. As we all know, all surgeries pose some element of risk. Because of this, it is common to sign a form prior to undergoing surgery that states that you understand that surgery involves a known risk. This is known as “informed consent.” However, surgical risks go far beyond the known risks of surgery–they are unexpected. 

Different Types of Surgical Errors

There are many different types of surgical errors that medical professionals can commit, leading to lifelong complications for patients and their loved ones. Some of the most common surgical mistakes include:

  • Infection - Infection occurs when the use of unsanitary surgical instruments or equipment during surgery leads to cross-contamination of disease. If the patient is already immunocompromised, the result can be infection and even sepsis, which can be fatal.  
  • Wrong Site Surgery - Wrong site surgery happens when a patient’s surgery is performed on the wrong body part or organ. In fact, there have been numerous instances where patients have had the wrong limb amputated.
  • Surgical Instruments Left in the Body - This is actually more common than one would think. Many times surgical instruments are left inside the body after an incision is sutured. Most hospitals require that all instruments, equipment, gauzes, etc., be accounted for before and after surgery, but not all do. Severe complications and infections can result from surgical instruments being left inside of the body.
  • Wrong Patient/Unnecessary Surgery - Wrong patient surgery is not as common as wrong site surgery; however, it still does occur. When a patient receives unnecessary surgery, coupled with the complications that come with surgery, it can have negative, lifelong consequences.
  • Damage to Internal Organs - When organs and tissue are damaged during surgery, an adjacent organ can be accidentally pierced or punctured with surgical instruments such as scalpels, scissors, or even lasers. Organ tissue is especially delicate, and if it becomes punctured or penetrated, it can lead to serious and lifelong health issues. 
  • Nerve Damage - When a surgeon makes a physical error while administering anesthesia, it can cause the patient to suffer minor to severe nerve damage. This can be due to an inexperienced or negligent surgeon and can lead to paralysis and other complications.

Complications That Result From Surgical Errors

No matter what the cause was for your surgical error, it can cause life-threatening or debilitating complications, including:

  • Nerve Damage - As we touched on above, nerve damage can lead to many complications. Those include muscle weakness and partial or full paralysis in the area that is affected. In some instances, additional surgeries and physical rehabilitation may be needed in order to help patients regain strength.
  • Organ Damage - Damage to internal organs is a possible complication, especially in instances where a surgeon uses the wrong equipment, surgical instruments, or surgical technique.
  • Scarring - Operating on the wrong body part or the wrong side of the body can oftentimes lead to unnecessary scarring.
  • Internal Bleeding - While bleeding risks come with every surgery, internal bleeding can be the result of negligence or unnecessary roughness during surgery. When there is internal bleeding after surgery, it can go unnoticed and significantly increase the risk of fatality or serious complications for the patient.
  • Disfigurement - When serious surgical errors occur, a patient can become disfigured. A surgical error can result in the unnecessary amputation of a limb or the amputation of the wrong limb.
  • Disability - When a patient suffers from a lack of oxygen during a procedure, too much anesthesia, or accidental nerve damage, it can result in temporary or permanent disabilities such as parietal or full paralysis.
  • Death - Unfortunately, each year, many patients die as the result of preventable surgical errors.

Treatments After Surgical Errors

Due to the severe nature that surgical errors often pose, extensive and ongoing care to treat or correct the mistake is inevitable. A few common treatments following surgical errors include:

  • Additional Surgeries to Correct Damage - In many surgical error cases, additional procedures are needed in order to repair the damage. These additional surgeries can increase a patient’s risk of developing infections and other complications and can become very expensive.
  • At-Home Care - Serious injuries may require extended at-home care from a nurse, doctor, or other medical professionals. If the surgical error has caused paralysis, a patient may need a wheelchair or other equipment to help assist their injuries. In this case, a patient’s home or automobile may need to be modified to accommodate such injuries or equipment. Additional care, equipment, etc., can become pricey.
  • Ongoing Need for Rehabilitation - Many surgical errors lead to injuries that require long-term physical or mental rehabilitation. A patient may need physical therapy to relearn basic functions, such as walking, speaking, or eating. This will result in long-term therapies and rehabilitation, which can become very costly. 

Why Do Surgical Errors Occur?

No two surgeries are the same. That is why each surgical error has the potential to be unique. However, here are some common reasons that surgical errors take place:

  • Neglect - A lot of times, surgeons are simply not as careful as they need to be. This may include failing to make sure that their surgical instruments are sterilized properly or the decision to use equipment that is known to be defective. 
  • Poor Communication - Failing to communicate correctly can lead to many critical errors. For instance, a surgeon could mark the wrong site for surgery or fail to ensure that all equipment is properly handled. Miscommunication can also lead to improper dosage of medication. Any of these can lead to severe consequences.
  • Fatigue - Due to surgeons notoriously working long shifts, this is rather common. This often results in fatigue, and tired people are more likely to make mistakes compared to people who are well-rested.
  • Drugs/Alcohol - Due to the high-stress level that many surgeons face, some turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. It may be surprising to some that a surgeon would even think to enter an operating room under the influence of drugs or alcohol; however, it happens.
  • Improper Work Process - Sometimes, surgeons may mistakenly decide that they do not need to take certain steps during surgery and take shortcuts. These shortcuts can become costly when it comes to something as serious as surgery.
  • Incompetence - In some instances, a surgeon may not have performed the procedure many times and simply lacks the knowledge, skill, or experience that it takes to perform the surgery successfully. This may sound strange, but it can happen, and it does.
  • Inadequate Preoperative Planning - When a surgeon is not prepared for surgery, it can become detrimental. It is essential to review and prepare for any complications that may occur. This is not only limited to surgeons but can include improper preparation by nurses and assistants, failing to ensure all equipment is ready and available when needed by the surgeon.

The list of possible causes goes on and on. However, if you believe your surgical error was due to the negligence of another, you will most likely be able to pursue a medical malpractice case.

What is Medical Malpractice?

When you are injured due to a surgical error, you may be wondering if it means that medical malpractice has occurred. Although most times it may, the mere fact that a surgical error took place does not ensure that someone (or anyone) is liable for medical malpractice. In order to determine if it is medical malpractice, the medical treatment in question, whether it was a surgical procedure or not, has to follow the practices of an accepted medical standard of care. Additionally, the sub-standard treatment must have directly harmed you. 

In other terms, if the medical error did not fall below the medical standard of care, or the treatment/surgery did not cause you harm, no malpractice occurred. A general standard of care definition is “the type and level of care that an ordinary, prudent, medical professional, with the equivalent training and experience, would provide under the same, or similar, circumstances in the same community.”

In the majority of surgical error cases, it is reasonably simple to prove that your medical professional’s treatment was below the standard of care. If you are able to prove that a surgical error violated that standard of care, the issue becomes whether or not you were harmed by the error.  

Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim Following Your Surgical Error

Although surgical errors are not always as obvious as leaving gauze inside a patient or operating on the wrong body part, they can come in a more subtle form, such as a surgeon failing to exercise reasonable care at any point during the surgery. It’s important to keep in mind that medical professionals are humans, and like the rest of us, they too can be exhausted from working too many hours in a day when performing surgery or become sick but still show up to work. It is not as easy to “call in sick” when you are a surgeon that has multiple operations scheduled in a day. 

However, whether or not the surgical injury could have been avoided if the standard of care had been exercised is the issue at hand. When establishing the medical standard of care in a medical malpractice case, there are a couple of critical steps. Those include:

  • Determine what a reasonably skilled surgeon would have done under the same circumstances.
  • Show how the surgeon in question failed to meet that medical standard of care during the operation.
  • Prove that the surgeon’s negligence was what caused the patient harm.

Once those three key factors have been established, you most likely have a valid medical malpractice case. What you do next is essential. 

Hire An Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Once you have established that you have an arguable medical malpractice case, it is important to consult an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. Regardless of the type of surgical error you have suffered, having a knowledgeable attorney who has experience in medical malpractice claims makes all the difference. They will have an understanding of common surgical procedures and the risks they pose as well as the resources to consult with medical professionals on what the medical standard of care is. These third-party medical professionals are a huge help in determining if a surgical error actually occurred and if it was the error that caused the complications the patient is currently facing. 

The Cochran Firm has the resources to access and hire top medical experts in any field of medicine to help prove your case. Many of our offices have in-house nurses and physicians that help us research difficult medical issues and provide screening in complicated cases. Let our experienced medical malpractice team review your case today. As with all of our reviews, it is at no cost to you. And if we take your case, we do not charge a fee unless a recovery is obtained on your behalf. Contact us today for your free, no-obligation initial consultation.

Your lawyer can fight insurance companies and larger corporations that typically own hospitals or operating centers to ensure that you receive the compensation that you truly deserve. Because surgical errors can lead to severe, life-long difficulties, your lawyer can seek damages to compensate you for both present and future complications. 

Who Can Be Held Liable for My Surgical Errors?

In some instances, surgical errors may not be discovered for days, weeks, months, or even years after an operation occurs. For example, if a medical instrument or piece of gauze is left inside the patient, it could remain inside the patient and not cause any harm until long after the surgery took place. In these cases, a patient may not remember who the operating surgeon was or be unable to find them because they no longer work at the same hospital. 

However, there are many contributing factors that lead to medical mistakes, and it may not only be the surgeon that is liable for your surgical error injuries. In some cases, the hospital in which the operation took place can be held vicariously liable for medical professionals' negligence. 

Under the legal doctrine “respondeat superior,” an employer can be held liable for the negligence of one of its employees as long as the negligent act occurred within the scope of employment. This means that a hospital can be held vicariously liable for a medical mistake of a doctor as long as the following criteria can be proved:

  • The injury occurred while the employee was on the clock
  • The injury was the result of an activity the employee was hired to perform
  • The employer benefited in some way from the activity the employee performed at the time of the injury

Sometimes, hospitals will claim that the medical professionals that performed the operation were not employees but instead are independent contractors, and therefore there is no hospital malpractice. However, the hospital can be held liable for its own negligence if it fails to properly investigate the credentials of an acting physician before allowing them to perform surgeries at the hospital or allowing a physician to treat patients when the hospital knew they were incompetent. 

Vicarious liability applies to both hospitals and doctors themselves for mistakes that resulted from negligence. This includes mistakes made by interns and medical students who were operating under a doctor’s supervision. If you believe that you have suffered from a surgical error injury because of the negligence of another party, contact our experienced medical malpractice lawyers today for a free, no-obligation initial consultation.

What Damages Can A Lawyer Help Me Recover From My Surgical Error?

If you have proven that a negligent surgeon was the reason for your injuries, you may be able to collect compensation through a medical malpractice case. The most common types of economic and non-economic compensatory damages you may be eligible for consist of:

  • Medical Expenses - treatments, doctor visits, physical therapy, additional surgeries, and assistive aids that your injury has left you with can all be reimbursed to you.
  • Disfigurement - if your injury leaves you with hair loss, missing or deformed body parts, scars, or any other obvious visual changes, you can be compensated for disfigurement.
  • Pain and Suffering - any physical pain and discomfort you have experienced after a surgeon harmed you, you can be compensated for. The monetary amount will be determined by the specific injury you faced as well as the length of your recovery.
  • Mental Anguish - any anxiety, distress, depression, and trauma you face are all types of mental anguish that can warrant compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. 
  • Loss of Consortium - any loss of physical intimacy or companionship with a partner or spouse that your injuries caused may be compensated.
  • Disability - if your injury leaves you disabled and you are not able to work or participate in activities that you were able to before your surgery, you may be able to receive compensation.
  • Loss of Income - if you miss work due to your injury and the recovery process, you can be compensated for any past, present, and future wages.

The unfortunate truth is that thousands of patients are injured by surgical errors each year. These preventable mistakes often lead to medical malpractice claims against medical providers, hospitals, and surgical centers. The injuries that patients face from surgical errors can be very severe and sometimes even end in lifelong care and treatment. Not only do victims of surgical errors face physical damage, but they can also experience emotional and financial damage as well. If you or a loved one has been injured from surgical errors, contact our medical malpractice attorneys today for a free, no-obligation initial consultation.

Why Choose The Cochran Firm

Johnnie Cochran had long dreamed of creating a national law firm of men and women from all races, religions, creeds, and backgrounds to show how well we could all work together to make the world a better place. When Mr. Cochran started The Cochran Firm, his mission was “a journey to justice.” Today, with more than 35 offices across more than 20 states, the attorneys at The Cochran Firm work every day to fulfill that dream and continue that mission by working for our clients with the same work ethic and dedication to justice exemplified by Mr. Johnnie Cochran himself.

The Cochran Firm is a diverse group of highly skilled and experienced lawyers that are dedicated to bringing high-quality representation to injured people and their families. Our experienced attorneys at The Cochran Firm are among the nation’s most recognized and successful attorneys in the country. When navigating through the legal process, you deserve to have an experienced attorney by your side. Our attorneys at The Cochran Firm know how to fight for you.

Here at The Cochran Firm, each of our attorneys is ready to help victims receive the maximum compensation and financial recovery for all of their pain and sufferings. Our attorneys work closely with each of our clients using pooled resources and their access to legal expertise to ensure the most effective legal representation available is provided.

You need the help of an experienced attorney who has proven successful results in other similar cases to guide you through the process and help you to receive the monetary damages you are entitled to under the law. The Cochran Firm’s results have been well documented and demonstrated both in the courtroom and at settlement conferences. At The Cochran Firm, we have the offices, the experience, the results, and the resources to aid clients throughout the United States.

If you’re looking for an experienced medical malpractice attorney to help you pursue justice for your surgical error, please contact our attorneys at The Cochran Firm today for your free, no-obligation initial consultation. We serve the entire country with offices in many major U.S. cities.