In 1995, a retired and disabled man, Willie King, made national news, but not for a good reason. He awoke from anesthetic after surgery to discover that his good left leg had been amputated instead of his gangrenous right one. The publicity eventually led to marked changes across the country in presurgical procedures designed to prevent similar occurrences.
Even so, recent publicity has focused on three incidents across the country, in New York, Texas and California, in which surgeons removed a healthy kidney from the patient instead of the diseased one. All three patients, instead of recovering to live pain-free, rich lives as they expected before surgery, will now have to spend the rest of their lives on dialysis and prescription medications.
Thousands of people either die or are injured every year due to surgical errors that lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. Almost 100 percent of the errors are preventable.
Surgery Errors and Medical Malpractice
Estimates are that at least 4,000 surgical “never events” occur every year. The term “never events” is used by researchers because the errors are completely preventable and should never occur. For example, every week across the country there are “never” incidents where surgeons:
- Operate on the wrong body part.
- Operate on the wrong patient.
- Perform the wrong procedure.
- Leave a foreign object, such as a sponge or a surgical tool, inside the surgical site.
In addition to these specific surgical errors, there other errors that occur during or prior to surgery that result in either death or serious injury to the patient. These include:
- Lack of informed consent, so the patient has unexpected consequences or undergoes a procedure that he or she had not planned for
- Unnecessary surgery or procedure
- Improperly sterilized surgical instruments, leading to infection
- Puncture or damage of an organ during the surgical procedure
- Inadvertent cuts to veins or arteries, leading to excessive bleeding
- Injured nerves, leading to paralysis or lack of function
- Anesthesia errors that lead to oxygen deprivation
Approximately 100,000 of these errors occur every year. An accurate number of events is difficult to ascertain, since many surgical errors go unreported.
Consequences of Surgical Errors
People consent to surgical procedures with the expectation that the quality of their lives will be improved. Instead, they wake to find that they will likely need another surgery to correct the error. Some may be left permanently brain-damaged, with paralysis that will require medical intervention and care for the remainder of their lives, or facing a life wrought with pain and suffering. Recovery, if recovery is even possible, may take months or years.
Medical Malpractice Claims Due to Surgical Errors
Surgeons have a duty to exercise a standard of care acceptable within the medical community. When their negligent actions result in a surgical error, they are liable for the harm their error caused. An often-used definition of the required standard of care is “the type and level of care an ordinary, prudent health care professional, with the same training and experience, would provide under similar circumstances in the same community.”
When physicians fail to meet this standard, they may be held liable for medical malpractice. Almost all surgical errors fall below the acceptable standard of care. A attorney skilled in handling surgical error cases can help you, whether you are the one who was injured or you have had a loved one die as a result of a surgical error. Call today for a free consultation.