Complications After Knee Replacement: Medical Malpractice?

Knee surgery carries with it numerous risks and potential for long-term complications. In some cases - where problems should have been prevented - the patient may have a valid malpractice claim.

If you've had knee replacement surgery and are now experiencing complications, you may have a medical malpractice case against your surgeon or other health care provider. This article discusses some of the common health problems associated with knee replacement surgery, how to identify a potential medical malpractice case, the basic elements of a knee replacement surgery medical malpractice case, and a recent verdict.

Common Risks and Side-Effects

Knee replacement surgery involves replacing the end of the upper thigh bone (the femur) with a metal cap, replacing the end of the lower leg bone (the tibia) with a plastic piece and a metal stem, and possibly removing or replacing the posterior cruciate ligament on the sides of the knee joint.

The risks and side-effects of knee replacement surgery include:

  • infection - which may or may not require a second surgery
  • nerve damage
  • chronic stiffness and/or pain in the knee or surrounding area
  • pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the legs that lodge in the lungs)
  • bleeding into the knee joint
  • urinary tract infection
  • blood vessel injury, and
  • general loss of range of motion and impeded movement.

How Do I Know if I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?

Simply because your knee replacement surgery did not go as well as you had hoped does not mean that you can or should sue your orthopedic surgeon for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when your surgeon or other medical professional fails to live up to the medical standard of care in his or her field, under the circumstances.

Except for clear-cut cases, it is very difficult to predict ahead of time whether your surgeon actually committed malpractice in the eyes of the law -- there is no easy formula because a jury must decide that question after hearing conflicting testimony from knee surgery experts (orthopedic surgeons) for both sides.

If you have any of the common symptoms and side-effects listed in the previous section, chances are your surgeon or some other medical professional warned you of those risks before the surgery. As long as nothing out of the ordinary happened to cause nerve damage, for example, then your "informed consent" probably protects the surgeon from medical malpractice liability.

On the other hand, if you are positive you were never warned of the risk that you are now suffering (keep in mind, you probably signed a form with the risks listed) and you would not have agreed to the surgery if you knew of risks, then you might be able to sue for lack of informed consent. However, depending on your state, if the surgery was a good medical decision regardless of adequate consent, you may lose your case.

More clear-cut cases where a jury is likely to believe malpractice occurred might involve, for example, putting one of the bone caps on improperly or carelessly fracturing a bone. Even in those examples, however, a jury might believe a knee surgery expert who testifies any decent surgeon could have made the same mistake -- in other words, that the surgeon was not negligent and did not commit malpractice.

Other Issues to Expect

Special rules are specifically designed to make suing a surgeon or other health care provider more difficult than suing "ordinary" defendants. The unique procedures and rules will depend on the medical malpractice laws in your state, but could include:

  • a short deadline ("statute of limitations") to start your case
  • pre-suit requirements like the filing of a certificate of merit
  • expert medical witnesses experienced in the particular field of health care must testify on behalf of either party, and
  • the total amount a plaintiff can recover from a health care provider might be limited by a "damages cap."

When to See a Lawyer

As you've probably gathered by now, medical malpractice is a complicated legal field with a lot of hurdles and uncertainties. If you think that the harm you suffered after a knee replacement surgery is out of the ordinary and the result of your surgeon or other health care provider's negligence, then you should consult with an experience plaintiff's medical malpractice attorney.
How Much is My Knee Replacement Malpractice Case Worth?

If you win your case, how much you recover will all depend on your medical expenses, lost wages and other concrete losses as well as the dollar amount the jury puts on your pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that some states put limits on how much a medical malpractice plaintiff can recover, regardless of what the jury awards.

Recent Related Verdict

In Missouri, a woman sued her surgeon for a negligently-administered knee replacement that required two more knee replacements to fix. The jury awarded $825,000, which included $325,000 for concrete damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and $500,000 for past and future pain and suffering.

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