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Medical Malpractice: Surgery

Surgery Malpractice & Surgical Errors Statistics in U.S.


Medical errors, in general, kill over 250,000 people in America every year. Some reports claim the number is higher. Surgical errors account for a smaller percentage of these errors, given approximately 4,000 surgical errors/mistakes are made in the U.S. every year.

 However, given the nature of surgery, most errors are believed to be unreported or blamed on other factors, making these figures overly conservative.

Surgical errors are preventable mistakes during surgery. While all surgeries are risky in some way, surgical malpractice can occur when surgeons, among other medical professionals, make preventable errors like operating on the wrong body part or performing unnecessary surgery.

Surgical errors have catastrophic consequences ranging from avoidable infections to organ failure and death (in the worst-case scenarios).

As mentioned above, surgeries are risky. This is precisely why patients undergoing surgery are supposed to sign an informed consent form - a document stating that the patient understands all the risks involved before they undergo surgery.

Even if a patient signs an informed consent form, medical professionals that perform errors may still be liable to surgical malpractice claims if they make preventable mistakes during surgery. Surgical errors have unique elements i.e., they are preventable, unexpected, and go beyond known surgical risks.

Group of doctors, surgery team operating in a surgical room.

Group of surgical doctors operating on a patient. Patient under anesthesia in surgical room.

Why Do Surgical Mistakes Occur?


While surgeries have similarities, every surgical procedure is unique. The same applies to every surgical error and its underlying cause. Some of the most common causes of surgical mistakes in the U.S. include:

  • Poor preoperative planning

Surgeons must prepare thoroughly for surgery. The preparation includes tasks like reviewing a patient's medical history and preparing for complications that can occur during surgery.

Preparation also extends to other medical professionals like nurses, anesthesiologists, and assistants that have direct or indirect involvement during surgery. The planning can involve simple tasks like ensuring all equipment is available and ready when needed.

  • Incompetence

Some surgical mistakes are purely out of incompetence i.e., surgeons that haven't done that specific procedure before or enough times to acquire the right skills set to do the surgery correctly.

This can include failing to sterilize surgical instruments properly to using defective equipment. Anesthesiologists may also be incompetent and administer the wrong anesthesia or wrong dosage. While incompetence may be rare, it's a common cause of surgical mistakes.

  • Wrong work process

A surgeon can mistakenly find certain steps to be unnecessary during surgery resulting in costly shortcuts.

  • Poor communication

Poor communication during surgery is also a form of surgical error. For instance, a surgeon can mark the wrong operating site during surgery or fail to confirm all surgical equipment/tools are ready and present.

Anesthesiologists can also misinterpret dosage information and administer the wrong anesthesia dosage resulting in serious consequences.

  • Fatigue

This is another common mistake common among surgeons that work long shifts. Tired people (including surgeons) are prone to making mistakes since fatigue can impair motor skills and judgment. This highlights why there are strict operational guidelines in regard to rest and surgery.

  • Drugs/alcohol

Although rare, some surgeons and other medical personnel in the operating room have been known to use drugs/alcohol to deal with the nature of their work. It is shocking to think surgeons or any other medical professionals can enter an operating room intoxicated. However, it has happened in the past.

    Oncologist examining the MRI scan results of medical patient.  Brain pathology medical research.

    Doctor examining the MRI scan results of medical patient. Brain pathology medical research.

    Examples of surgical mistakes and consequences of surgical errors


    There are many types of surgical mistakes that have been known to occur; the most common include:

    • Operating on the wrong body part
    • Leaving surgical equipment like sponges inside a patient
    • Damaging nerves during surgery
    • Administering too little/too much anesthesia
    • Making a wrong incision
    • Performing unnecessary surgery

    Surgical mistakes/errors have consequences such as:

    • Avoidable infections
    • Asphyxiation
    • The puncturing of arteries
    • Nerve damage
    • Muscle damage
    • Organ damage
    • Death (in extreme cases)

    Malpractice Claims - When can surgical mistakes become medical malpractice?


    Surgical mistakes can become medical malpractice if the surgeon performing the surgery or other medical professionals involved in the surgery (directly or indirectly) fall below acceptable standards of care expected from a reasonably competent and skilled medical professional under similar circumstances. The patient in question should also suffer an injury.

    While some surgical medical malpractice can be linked to incompetence, it can also be caused by factors like poor planning and miscommunication with patients, their family, or between medical professionals on the risks associated with such surgeries.

    Surgical errors and medical malpractice claims

    Surgical errors that qualify as medical malpractice result in claims. In fact, surgical errors are the 2nd most common reason for medical malpractice claims after diagnostic errors. Surgery isn't just risky for patients. It also exposes surgeons and other medical professionals when medical malpractice claims are filed.

    A recent insurance report shows that diagnostic and surgery-related claims account for 32% and 25% of all medical malpractice claims, respectively. However, all phases of surgery, including the decision-making and care leading to and after surgery, can result in a malpractice claim.

    Pre-oxygenation for anesthesia during surgery

    Pre-oxygenation for anesthesia during surgery. Anesthesiologist using anesthesia equipment.

    Examples of surgical malpractice cases


    The U.S. is home to surgical malpractice cases with some of the highest surgical malpractice settlements anywhere in history. Some notable cases include:

    Birth Injury Malpractice Verdict

    Finding a surgical malpractice lawyer


    If you suspect your injury could be linked to surgical errors, you may have a medical malpractice claim. To determine if you have a potential claim and to get great representation, you'll need to find a highly experienced surgical malpractice lawyer in your area. The importance of finding the best-of-the-best surgery malpractice lawyers can't be overlooked given the temporary and permanent consequences of surgical errors.

    That's where FindMedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com comes in. FindMedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com is a referral service run by lawyers that specializes in medical malpractice law only. The site is the best for individuals searching specifically for experienced surgical malpractice attorneys locally (surgery malpractice lawyer near me).

    An attorney reviewing legal documents with a client in an office meeting.

    An attorney and counselor reviewing legal documents with a client in an office meeting.

    FindMedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com simplifies the process of finding highly specialized attorneys at a trying time. The process is as simple as filling out a simple form or calling. A lawyer will contact you to talk about your case briefly.

    After basic information about your case has been collected, a talented surgical malpractice lawyer will be identified. Recommendations are made based on historical results achieved by attorneys who have handled cases such as yours.

    The lawyers FindMedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com refers cases to have recovered over $100 million through settlements and trials involving over a thousand clients/cases.

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    Disclaimer:This article offers a general overview of surgery malpractice and is not intended to provide legal advice. Please keep in mind that medical malpractice laws differ by state.

    5 References

    • Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.
    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_suggests_medical_errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us

    • Thousands of Mistakes Made in Surgery Every Year
    https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20121220/thousands-mistakes-surgery#1

    • Surgery is the 2nd most common reason for medical malpractice claims, report says
    https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/surgery-second-most-common-reason-for-medical-malpractice-claims-report-says

    • A Dose of Insight – Surgery Risks: Through the Lens of Liability Claims
    https://www.coverys.com/knowledge-center/a-dose-of-insight-surgery-risks

    • After $229 million verdict, Maryland hospitals seek new way to pay for injured babies
    https://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-birth-injury-trust-fund-20200204-aqiwynlepve5xe6qmjbc76rmhm-story.html

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    Medical Malpractice FAQs


    How do I find the best medical malpractice attorney?

    To find the best medical malpractice lawyer, you should search for a lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice law and who has handled cases similar to yours. In most circumstances, you should hire a local attorney with at least a few years of experience trying cases and who has industry recognition. Lastly, you should also look at the attorney's historical results to get a sense of outcomes for the lawyer's past clients.

    How do you know if you have a potential case for medical malpractice?

    If you are injured, you should always consult with an experienced attorney to determine if you have a potential medical malpractice claim. Red flags that should alert you to consult with an attorney include (i) instances where a medical procedure was performed for which you weren't advised of the risks or did not consent to, (ii) a physician admits (they will rarely do this) to a medical mistake and (iii) you have undergone multiple procedures in an attempt to correct a past one that went wrong.

    What is the average settlement for medical malpractice?

    Medical malpractice settlements vary widely based on numerous factors, including but not limited to the egregiousness of the medical mistake, the type and extent of the injuries suffered and the attorney or law firm handling your case. Our attorneys can help you understand the potential value of your claim and refer you to an attorney who can maximize any potential recovery.

    What is the most common reason for malpractice?

    Medical malpractice is caused by physician errors due to the failure to exercise care, a lack of experience or training, a lack of proper communication and coordination between medical staff and as a result of overworked physicians.

    What are the grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit?

    Generally, there are two grounds for medical malpractice claims. The most common ground is negligence. Negligence generally means that a physician's action or inaction fell below the standard of care within the medical community.  Depending on your state, another ground for medical malpractice may be lack of informed consent. This generally occurs when a physician fails to disclose information a reasonable patient would have wanted to know when deciding whether to undergo a procedure or when a physician performs a procedure without a patient's permission resulting in injury.

    What happens in a malpractice lawsuit?

    In a medical malpractice lawsuit, a lawsuit will generally be filed against the physician and the hospital involved. The physician's malpractice insurance carrier will appoint an attorney to defend the case. Once the injured victim's injuries are fully known, an attorney will make a demand for settlement. If a settlement cannot be made, litigation will commence and the matter may go to trial or may be settled through arbitration.

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    The accuracy of information provided on this site is not guaranteed. It is generic information for informal purposes only. It is NOT formal legal advice. Your use of this site does NOT create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with a licensed attorney in your state before relying on any information found on this site. If you are currently represented by an attorney, you should strictly abide by his/her counsel. Any results discussed on this website are illustrative. Results will vary by case and by many factors including the parties involved. Our disclosure of any past results should not create an unjustified expectation of the same results for your case.

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