Today's hospitals do their best to move patients through surgery and recovery as quickly as possible in order to tend to more patients and increase revenues. Although there is some merit to the practice, it can also increase the rate of surgical errors -- some minor, some much more critical, and some, fatal. Surgery errors are some of the most common types of medical malpractice lawsuits in the U.S. If the surgical injury or death could have been avoided, or was a result of negligence or inattention, the injured party has the legal right to sue for monetary damages.
While there are probably as many potential types of surgical errors as there are surgical procedures, here's a closer look at five of the most common surgical mistakes:
Wrong site surgery, which occurs when a patient's surgery is performed on the wrong body part or organ -- there are a fair number of instances in which patients had the wrong limb amputated.
Wrong patient surgery, while not as common as wrong site surgery, has still been known to occur. A patient is subjected to an unneeded surgery, along with all the complications that accompany surgery, and may have lasting negative consequences.
The use of unsanitary surgical instruments during surgery can lead to cross-contamination of disease. If the patient is already suffering from a compromised immune system, the results can be infection and sepsis, which can be deadly.
It's more common than you might think for surgical instruments to be left inside the body after incisions have been sutured. While some hospitals require that all surgical instruments, sponges, gauze, etc. be counted before and after the surgery, not all do. Serious complications and infection can arise from a surgical instrument being left inside the body.
Damage to organs and tissue. During a particular surgery, a neighboring organ can be accidentally perforated or punctured with a scalpel, scissors, or laser. Organ tissue is particularly delicate and such an occurrence can lead to severe and lasting health issues.
A surgeon's physical error or a mistake in the administration of anesthesia can cause the patient to suffer nerve damage.
Surgery errors might not always be as apparent as operating on the wrong body part or leaving a sponge inside a patient, but can come in a more subtle form such as a doctor's failure to exercise reasonable care at any time during the surgery. Doctors are human, and as such, suffer the same human conditions as the rest of us; they can be exhausted from working too many hours when performing a surgery, or they could have been sick themselves, but still came to work. It is not nearly as easy to "call in sick" when you are a surgeon and have a number of procedures scheduled for a particular day.
Whether the intent was malicious in any way or not, the issue is whether the surgical injury could have been avoided if due care and diligence had been exercised. The key steps in a medical malpractice case are establishing the medical standard of care -- what a reasonably skilled surgeon would have done under similar circumstances -- and then showing how the surgeon in the instant case failed to measure up to that standard in performing the procedure. Finally, it must be shown that the surgeon's negligence caused actual harm to the patient.
A surgical mistake can trigger huge medical bills, and may necessitate corrective follow-up procedures which can require the patient to take time off work (and thus lose wages.) In some cases, the patient’s physical health may not be the same as it was before the surgical error, and may never be.
In rare instances, the patient dies as a result of surgical negligence. In these cases, the surviving family members can bring a legal claim in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is a legal remedy that seeks to make patients whole again, but it's a complex process both from a legal and medical standpoint, so it's best to discuss potential surgery negligence with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.