What You Need to Know About Surgical Errors

All surgeries, however big or small involve some amount of risk and could result in a surgical error. A surgical error is essentially a mistake that could have been prevented during a surgery. Most often, surgical errors go beyond the known risks associated with surgery and mostly, surgical errors in the operating room are unforeseen. Surgical errors are also termed as “never events”, as they are preventable errors that should have never occurred.

Surgical errors can happen due to various causes such as:

  • Insufficient pre-operative planning
  • Incompetence
  • Inappropriate work process
  • Lack of communication
  • Fatigue
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Neglect

Surgical errors can be a result of several reasons which can cause permanent problems. There are instances of wrong patient surgery, removal of healthy functioning organs or damage to organs and even wrong site surgery. When a patient undergoes surgery that is not needed and there are complications, the patient may have negative after-effects such as:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Damage to the nerves
  • Infection
  • Organ and long-term tissue damage
  • Need to operate again

Surgical Error Statistics in the US

Every year, more than over 4,000 people are victim to surgical errors or “never events” in the US, according to John Hopkins University. Around 250,000 deaths occur in the US due to medical errors, which also include surgical errors. An estimate of surgical errors causing various issues revealed that around 59% of the patients suffered temporary injury, 33% were affected by permanent injuries and 7% of the cases resulted in death. Other details discovered were that in a week surgeons:

  • Performed the wrong surgical procedure around 20 times.
  • Operated on the incorrect part of the patient’s body around 20 times.
  • Left foreign objects such as sponges, surgical instruments, etc. inside the body of the patient around 39 times.

Across the United States, in the year 2012, a total payout of $3.6 billion was made and around 12,000 medical malpractice payouts were made. In the year 2012, among the 5 states including Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and California, New Jersey accounted for 48% of the payments made for medical malpractice.

In 2008, New Jersey had over 1,000 medical malpractice claims. These cases constituted around 0.1% of all civil lawsuits and 2.3 of the tort claims filed in New Jersey in 2008. For every 100,000 people living in New Jersey, 14.1 new malpractice cases were registered. The medical malpractice cases fell by around 30% from 1999-2009. And, in the year 2012, a total of over $200,000,000 was paid as medical compensation in New Jersey.

What Constitutes Surgical Error Malpractice?

All surgical errors are not considered as medical malpractice. For a surgical error to be a malpractice, the surgeon who is performing the surgery should have failed to follow the proper standard of care and the sub-par treatment must be the reason for the harm caused to you i.e. if the error was not below the medical standards of care, or you have not been harmed, then there is no case of medical malpractice.

“Standard of care” is defined as the kind of care and the level of care any regular and prudent health care professional in the same community, with the same training, as well as experience, would have provided under similar conditions.

Surgical errors are the mistakes that could have been prevented if the surgeon had followed the standard of care. This means that if the surgeon acted prudently and a complication still arose during the surgery, which was not preventable, then as a patient, you cannot sue the doctor for medical malpractice, irrespective of the severity of the injury or illness that is caused due to the surgery.

You cannot sue for malpractice if:

  • The surgery goes wrong but you are unharmed.
  • The surgeon and the medical team maintained the proper standard of care, but you sustained an injury during surgery.

Common Surgical Errors

Although there are many types of surgical errors that occur, the most common ones are:

Wrong Patient Operated On

Although hospitals require a proper patient verification system, this is not followed stringently by the healthcare providers, which may result in the surgeon performing a surgery on the wrong person. This is extremely dangerous for the person who has wrongly be operated upon and also causes delays for the actual patient who requires the surgery.

Wrong patient surgeries are not uncommon. According to a news report, a doctor removed a wrong kidney from a different patient and claimed that he was distracted by calls on his pager that caused him to provide wrong information on the patient’s medical chart.

Another case of mistaken identity occurred at a hospital in Ridley Park, Springfield in 2009, where Darlene Hill suffering from abdominal pain was admitted to the emergency room. The radiologist found that there was fluid leaking into Darlene’s abdomen, which could have been caused due to a perforated bowel or appendix. The radiologist, however, did not compare the CT scan with the previous report, which would have shown that this was a case of mistaken identity and Darlene was not the patient whose problem was revealed by the scan.

Since the surgeon of the hospital who performed an investigatory surgery on Darlene could not find any perforation or abnormality, he went ahead and removed her appendix. Darlene was awarded $650,000 for a wrong patient procedure.

Wrong Procedure Performed on Patient

Performing a wrong procedure on a patient can have dangerous consequences, as it delays the correct surgery that is required. This takes time since the patient must heal before the same part is operated upon again to perform the correct procedure, which may worsen the condition of the patient.

Crystal Heath went for a Brazilian butt lift procedure to a doctor in South Florida in 2015. But instead of a butt lift, the doctor performed a tummy tuck on Crystal. The doctor then informed her that she didn’t have sufficient fat on the stomach for the butt lift which was originally scheduled and Crystal was left with a hole of around 7-inches in her stomach that required hospitalization for 11 days.

Wrong Site of Procedure

This is a very common kind of surgery error when the incorrect body part or organ is operated upon due to miscommunication. For instance, if you went in for a surgery for appendix removal and then you discovered when you wake up that your gallbladder was removed instead. This not only delays the correct surgery but also results in a healthy and properly functioning organ being removed from your body.

An example of this occurred at a reputed hospital in New Jersey, where a patient was scheduled to have a surgery, where one of the kidneys were to be removed. However, the surgeon performing the surgery removed the patient’s wrong kidney. The doctors had to later remove the damaged kidney, which was to have been removed during the first surgery, leaving the patient without both his kidneys.

Surgical Equipment Left inside the Patient

Sometimes after a long surgical procedure, the surgeon or medical staff may leave some object inside the patient’s body accidentally, such as a sponge or surgical instrument, etc. This can be hazardous to the patient and the patient will need to undergo a second surgery to remove the object. This not only puts the patient at risk of another operation, where the body is being cut open again, the patient also has to go through the unnecessary risks of anesthesia all over again.

Carol Critchfield, aged 56, went for a bladder support and hysterectomy surgery at Simi Valley Hospital in 2007. After the surgery, she went back to the hospital complaining of pain, but after an X-ray, the doctors sent her back saying that she was suffering from constipation.

In 2011, her condition worsened and she had bleeding, which was suspected to be due to an ovarian cyst and her ovaries were removed. Carol’s gynecologist discovered a mass in the small intestine, which was actually a sponge that was left behind during her previous surgery that took place in 2004. The sponge had been completely covered by the scar tissue and the surgeons had to remove a part of Carol’s intestine along with the sponge. Carol decided to file a lawsuit against the hospital after this for surgical negligence.

Most Common Surgical Errors

Some of the common surgical errors that occur are:

  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Performing surgery on the wrong side
  • Some foreign object left inside the patient’s body e.g. instruments, sponge, etc.
  • Unnecessary surgery performed
  • Nerve injury during surgery
  • Incision performed on the wrong part
  • Unable to recognize a complication while performing a surgery
  • Not communicating the test results with the patient
  • Surgery performed in an unsanitary or careless manner
  • Anaesthesia error
  • Not providing informed consent

If you have experienced some kind of surgical error, you can claim compensation for the losses that you have incurred due to the surgical error such as accrued medical expenses, loss of capacity to earn and not to mention the pain, trauma and suffering you have undergone. Our surgical error lawyers can help you to assess your claim. Contact us at:……..