Have you or has your loved one been hurt by a surgical error?
Every surgery is risky. A surprising number of things can go wrong in even the most minor procedure, from reactions to anesthesia or medications to uncontrolled bleeding. But what shouldn’t go wrong are the basics: competent doctors and staff providing the correct medical care for the individual patient in their care.
Yet anyone affected by a surgical error knows that those basics can, and do, go wrong.
Facts About Surgical Errors
Surgical errors are, quite simply, mistakes during an operation that should have been avoided. They can range from accidents like nicking a vital organ to drastic errors like amputating the wrong limb. Surgeons and surgical teams have committed preventable errors including
- Allowing contamination through incorrectly sterilized instruments or equipment, leading to infection or even deadly sepsis
- Leaving surgical equipment, such as sponges or surgical instruments, inside the patient’s body
- Creating nerve damage through unintended incisions or incorrect administration of anesthesia
- Performing an operation on the wrong body part
- Performing an operation on the right body part but on the wrong side of the body, such as removing the wrong kidney
- Performing an operation on the wrong patient entirely
These last three types of errors are commonly known as “never events,” because they should never occur with proper safeguards.
Researchers have estimated that 4,044 surgical errors that should be “never events” occur each year in the U.S.
Surgical errors may occur because doctors and surgical support staff are exhausted from working long hours, because they fail to communicate with the rest of the team about the patient’s needs or medical condition, because they take unacceptable risks or shortcuts out of haste or laziness, or because they’re simply inattentive or incompetent.
But whatever the reason for a surgical error, the person injured shouldn’t be the one to bear the costs. That’s why we initiate medical malpractice lawsuits for people injured by surgical errors.
Surgical Error Lawsuits
To prove liability in a surgical error lawsuit, you must establish two facts.
First, the medical treatment you received must not have met an accepted “medical standard of care.” The expected standard of care is the care that an ordinary, competent health care professional with a similar level of training and experience would have provided under the same or similar circumstances.
Suppose you have unexpected bleeding during surgery that could not have been detected from a thorough medical history or pre-operative bloodwork. The surgical team immediately notices the bleeding and follows every accepted protocol to treat it. That care would meet the medical standard of care even if your surgical outcome turned out considerably worse than you expected.
On the other hand, if that bleeding were due to a genetic condition that could have been anticipated from a thorough pre-surgical workup, or if that bleeding was not promptly noticed and treated, you could have a claim for medical malpractice—but you still have to meet the second condition.
Second, the error must have actually harmed you. If you were not harmed, there is no medical malpractice, even if the error was outrageous. This could occur if an operating team made a mistake during your procedure but noticed the mistake and was able to correct it with no additional pain, medical risk, or monetary cost to you.
And there’s another hurdle you’ll have to clear: that of the statute of limitations, which defines the time limit in which you must bring a claim. That means that it’s important to act quickly when you or a loved one has been injured by a surgical error.
According to the National Institutes of Health, most surgical errors are due to problems before or after, rather than during, surgery.
PCVA Understands Medical Malpractice and Surgical Errors
In early 2019, after a five-week trial, we obtained a $13,953,887 jury verdict for our client, 22-year-old Latosha Evans, who suffered a preventable stroke during a surgical procedure at Seattle Children’s Hospital. That stroke left her permanently disabled and unable to care for herself. What went wrong?
After beginning a scheduled surgery to replace a stent in our client’s heart, doctors realized that they didn’t have the stents they needed at that facility. They had to prolong her surgery for hours while they located and obtained stents from another hospital. That left her vulnerable to the damaging stroke that robbed her of her independence before her adult life truly began.
In a nutshell, her surgical team started a procedure without verifying that they had the necessary equipment on hand to complete that surgery.
If you’ve been injured by a similar error, don’t delay, and don’t try to deal with the hospitals or medical staff on your own. Contact us today to discuss your case and your options.