Cataract Surgery Complications: Is It Medical Malpractice?

There is a fine line between known risks and surgical errors with this delicate eye procedure. Read about the issues that can lead to a malpractice lawsuit.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

If you've suffered an adverse outcome after cataract surgery, you might be wondering if you can or should sue your eye doctor for medical malpractice. This article discusses the most common risks of cataract surgeries, how to prove medical malpractice, and the challenges you will face in a cataract surgery medical malpractice lawsuit.

Common Risks

Cataract surgery involves removing a cloudy lens from the patient's eye and replacing it with a clear, artificial lens. Although cataract procedures have become fairly routine and rarely have serious complications, there are some risks still associated with the surgery. The most common risks are:

  • posterior capsule tear
  • dropped nucleus
  • improper replacement lens strength
  • inadequate anesthetic
  • improper application of anesthesia, such as globe perforation, and
  • a variety of post-operative complications, such as swelling and infections

When Is It Medical Malpractice?

Although you may have experienced an unexpected outcome, even a severe injury, that does not mean medical malpractice is necessarily the cause. To win a malpractice case against your ophthalmologist, you will first need to prove that your ophthalmologist did not provide treatment that was in line with the "medical standard of care," which is usually defined as the level of care that a reasonably competent health care professional, with similar training and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances.

You will probably need to find a medical expert witness who has adequate knowledge of (or experience with) performing cataract surgeries (usually a practicing ophthalmologist) to testify as to what the proper standard of care was, and then to show that not only did your ophthalmologist fall short of that standard, but that you were also injured because of that sub-standard care.

Medical malpractice cases present a complex interaction between medical and legal issues, and it typically takes an experienced medical malpractice attorney working alongside a well-qualified expert witness to present the best case.

What to Expect in a Malpractice Case

In most states, some form of special procedural rules exist for medical malpractice cases, and these rules are specifically designed to make suing a health care provider more difficult, when compared with "ordinary" civil cases for personal injury. Depending on the medical malpractice laws in your state, the unique procedures and limitations might include:

  • A short deadline ("statute of limitations") to start your case.
  • Pre-suit requirements like screening panels, advance notice of the lawsuit, mandatory settlement negotiations and "expert affidavits" filed alongside the initial complaint.
  • Expert witnesses experienced in the particular field of health care must testify on behalf of either or both parties (plaintiff and defendant).
  • The total amount a plaintiff can recover from a health care provider might be limited by a "damage cap."

(To find the law in your state, choose from this chart.)

If you and your attorney manage to navigate the many procedural requirements, find an expert witness and demonstrate to the other side that you probably have a winning case, the final wrangling in the case will be over just what kind of damages resulted from your ophthalmologist's negligence, i.e. how badly you were actually hurt and how much that injury actually cost you in medical expenses, lost wages, diminished quality of life, etc.

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