How Surgical Errors Can Lead to Medical Malpractice

by | Jun 14, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

People primarily undergo surgery to address serious health issues or improve their quality of life. The decision to do so is typically made after consulting with a surgeon to help weigh the potential benefits, risks, and alternatives.

Like any medical procedure, surgery carries certain risks. While surgeons and medical staff take precautions to minimize these risks, complications can still happen. When surgical errors occur due to negligence, they can lead to severe complications and give rise to medical malpractice claims.

What Are Surgical Errors?
Surgical errors, such as a doctor operating on the wrong body part or leaving an instrument inside a patient, are overt examples of medical malpractice. But not all surgical errors are so obvious.

Additional errors can occur during various stages of the surgery and the recovery process. Examples include:

  • Anesthesia errors: Administering incorrect doses of anesthesia or failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs during the procedure.
  • Nerve or organ damage: Inadvertently damaging nerves, blood vessels, or organs during surgery.
  • Infection: Failing to maintain a sterile environment can lead to post-operative infections.

According to statistics from a professional liability insurer, some of these most common surgical errors are due to:

  • Poor performance of a surgeon
  • Lack of technical skill
  • Failure in communication or clinical judgment
  • Improper follow-up with patients
  • Oversights due to fatigue or distraction
  • Failure to follow accepted surgical practices

These surgical mistakes can result in severe patient injuries and, in some cases, patient deaths.

Key Factors Comprising a Surgical Error Claim
In general, medical malpractice cases related to surgical errors all involve the following factors:

1) Negligence: Medical malpractice requires proving that the healthcare professional was negligent in providing care. This means demonstrating that the surgeon or medical staff breached the standard of care expected of the same type of specialist acting under similar circumstances. The standard of care is determined by what a reasonably prudent healthcare professional with equivalent training would have done in that situation.

2) Lack of Informed Consent: Patients have the right to be fully informed about a surgical procedure’s risks, benefits, and alternatives before consent. If a healthcare professional fails to adequately inform the patient about the potential risks associated with the surgery and/or the reasonable alternatives to that surgery and the patient suffers harm, there may be a claim for failing to obtain the patient’s informed consent.

3) Causal Link: There must be a direct causal link between the surgical error and the patient’s injury or harm to establish medical malpractice. It must be proven that the error caused the injury or worsened the patient’s condition.

4) Damages: To pursue a medical malpractice claim, the patient must have suffered significant injuries, such as long-term physical pain, emotional distress, additional medical expenses, loss of income, and/or long-term disability.

Building a Legal Claim after a Surgical Error
Successful medical malpractice cases require a thorough investigation to establish negligence and prove that the harm suffered was a direct result of the healthcare provider’s negligent actions or omissions. When investigating a surgical error claim, the lawyer must gather relevant information by asking pertinent questions. Here are some questions that are typically requested in the process of investigating a surgical error claim:

1) Details of the Surgical Procedure

  • What was the specific surgical procedure performed?
  • When and where did the surgery take place?
  • Who were the members of the surgical team involved?

2) Description of the Surgical Error

  • What specific errors or mistakes do you believe occurred during or after the surgery?
  • How and why do you believe the error happened?
  • Has any other provider indicated that there may have been negligence or some deviation from the standard of care?

3) Medical Records and Documentation

  • Can you provide copies of your medical records related to the surgical procedure?
  • Are there any other documents, reports, imaging, or photos supporting your claim?
  • Are there any documented communications between you or your family and the surgeon about your concerns about possible errors during the surgery or post-operative care?

4) Expert Opinions

  • Have you consulted with other doctors regarding your injuries and the possible surgical error?
  • Have they offered opinions or statements on the applicable standard of care and whether it was breached?
  • Have they offered opinions or statements about the causal link between the surgical error and your injuries or complications?

5) Informed Consent and Patient Communication

  • Were you adequately informed about the surgery’s risks, benefits, and alternatives?
  • Did the healthcare provider obtain your informed consent before proceeding with the procedure?
  • Were there any communication issues or miscommunication between you and the healthcare provider?

6) Medical Consequences and Damages

  • What injuries or complications have you experienced from the suspected surgical error?
  • Have you had additional medical treatments, surgeries, or therapies due to the presumed surgical error?
  • Have any other doctors recommended future care or treatment for the injuries or complications stemming from the surgical error?
  • How has the surgical error affected your physical and emotional well-being and quality of life?

7) Witnesses and Supporting Evidence

  • Can any witnesses, such as healthcare professionals or staff, present during the surgery support your claim?
  • Do you have any photographs, videos, or other evidence demonstrating the surgical error or its consequences?

8) Financial and Non-Financial Damages

  • What financial costs have you incurred, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or rehabilitation costs?
  • What non-financial damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of enjoyment of life, have you experienced?

Addressing These Challenges
These questions are a starting point, and the specific questions relevant to your case may vary. Even if a person or hospital admits to an error, they may offer a solution or settlement that falls far short of what patients and their families deserve.

Therefore, it is crucial to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can guide you through the legal process, assess the specific details of your case, and help build a solid surgical error claim.

How Menzer Law Can Help
Attorney Matt Menzer is a highly-skilled, respected, and compassionate lawyer who has provided dedicated legal representation to those who have suffered from medical malpractice or serious personal injury for over 30 years. You can count on Matt to protect your rights and help you achieve compensation. Contact Menzer Law at 206.903.1818 or fill out this online form, and our team will review your claim at no cost.

Disclaimer: This content is written for educational purposes and is intended to provide general information and understanding of the law. The information should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.