Holding Doctors Responsible For Surgical Errors
We put a great deal of trust in our medical professionals, who we expect to use their expertise, experience, and training in diagnosing, advising, and treating us. Often, this trust is repaid by careful diagnosis, treatment, and eventual recovery. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and some patients find themselves treated by careless or even reckless doctors, sustaining serious injuries and enduring significant pain and suffering as a result. In some tragic cases, a person could even end up losing his or her life because of a physician’s negligence.
While any type of mistake made during the diagnosis and treatment process can wreak havoc on a person’s health, surgical errors tend to be particularly dangerous. Fortunately, it is possible to hold negligent surgeons accountable for their failure to provide adequate care, so if you or a loved one were injured by the carelessness of a medical professional, you should reach out to an experienced Florida surgical error lawyer for help.
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Common Surgical Errors
According to a report from Fierce Healthcare, surgical errors are the second leading cause of medical malpractice claims against doctors. This information comes from the liability insurer Coverys, which looked at five years’ worth of malpractice claims. Alleged surgical errors accounted for roughly 1 in 4 medical malpractice claims. This was second only to diagnostic errors, which comprised roughly 1 in 3 malpractice claims.
Many things can go wrong with surgery. However, Coverys found that nearly 80% of malpractice claims for surgical errors stemmed from inadequate performance on the part of the surgeon. For example, a surgeon could nick a healthy organ or cause excessive bleeding. A surgeon could also leave an implement behind or make some other error in the operating room due to a lack of technical skill.
Of course, errors can be made in all phases of surgery. A doctor could fail to adequately inform a patient of their options before wheeling them into the operating room. Doctors can also make mistakes regarding planning or during follow-up.
General surgery was most likely to lead to a malpractice claim, comprising 22% of claims. Other specialties at risk for a malpractice claim include orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery. These three accounted for nearly 50% of all medical malpractice claims.
Serious Injuries Resulting from Surgical Errors
A surgical error can lead to injuries both large and small. About 30% of the claims analyzed were for “permanent significant” injuries, such as disability. Almost 10% of claims were for the death of a patient, which is always a red flag that something might have gone wrong in the operating room.
A surgical error can cause permanent disability but might also require corrective surgery, which is expensive and carries many complications. Many patients who survive a botched surgery need extensive rehabilitation and ongoing care.
Should Operating Rooms Use a “Sterile Cockpit” Approach?
Reducing malpractice claims is a key goal for insurers. One focus has been on reducing any distractions in the operating room, such as irrelevant conversations that can take someone’s attention away from the task at hand. Other recommendations include keeping visitors out of the operating room and turning of cell phones – which we hope is happening already! Operating rooms are encouraged to become like the “sterile cockpits” used in the airline industry, where pilots and other crew are prohibited from having side conversations during landing and takeoff.
What Qualifies as a Surgical Error?
Surgery is complicated and often, there is no guarantee of success. For this reason, patients who are undergoing an operation are required to acknowledge the risk that complications could arise during or after the procedure. Some complications, however, when they are the result of negligent or reckless conduct, do not fall under this category. Instead, this is a breach of the standard of care, which means that injured parties could be entitled to compensation for their losses.
There are a variety of surgical error claims. Some studies, however, have indicated that as many as 75 percent of surgical errors occur during the procedures themselves and involve:
- Operating on the wrong patient;
- Operating on the wrong body part;
- Making anesthesia errors, causing a lack of oxygen and subsequent brain damage;
- Using non-sterilized surgical instruments, resulting in an infection;
- Failing to use the proper surgical procedures; or
- Failing to provide adequate post-operative care to a patient.
Some of these problems may only result in a minor injury, like an infection, that can easily be treated if diagnosed early enough. Others, however, including anesthesia errors, could end up causing permanent disability or even death.
Surgical Implements Left in the Body
Surgical teams rely on many tools to help them safely do their jobs. However, in too many cases today, surgeons end up forgetting to remove all implements before sewing a patient back up. When implements are left behind, patients can suffer pain and possibly need to undergo a second, costly surgery. Leaving tools behind is more common than many people think. If your surgeon left a foreign object inside you during surgery, contact a Miami medical malpractice attorney today. You could be entitled to compensation.
Some of the more common objects that surgical teams fail to remove include:
- Sharp objects;
- Stapler parts;
- Surgical sponges;
- Clamps; and
- Broken pieces from other instruments.
These objects can press on nerves and other soft tissue, causing continuous pain. Sponges can also become infected, spreading the infection to other parts of the body. Corrective surgery carries the same complications as all surgeries, including anesthesia problems, infection, and additional surgical errors. These surgeries are also expensive, requiring more time to recover.
Why Surgeons Sometimes Leave Objects Behind
The operating room is a hectic place, with many people assisting the lead surgeon. Often, implements are left behind because of a breakdown in communication. One member of the team might believe that someone else has removed the implement when no one did. Overweight patients are also at a higher risk of having foreign objects left behind. Given the patient’s increased size, it is easier for objects to become hidden by fat and other tissue. Other hospitals lack standardized policies for accounting for all objects. For example, teams should count the number of sponges inserted and then count again when they are removed. Someone on the team must be responsible for documenting this information. If necessary, the team might also order X-rays or other imaging tests to look for objects left behind before completing surgery.
At Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP, we focus on patients’ rights when surgical errors injure them. These are not easy cases to bring, and doctors and hospitals vigorously defend themselves.
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To collect compensation for a surgical error, an injured party must be able to prove that the injury in question would not have been the reasonably foreseeable result of the procedure if another competent surgeon had performed the same procedure using the current standard of care. Often, this burden is relatively easy to meet. Is it obvious, for instance, even to laymen, that leaving an instrument inside a person’s body or operating on the wrong person is negligent? In more complicated cases, it is typically necessary to obtain the opinion of an expert who can testify as to the proper standard of care.
Surgical errors will continue to happen, and injured patients and their family members need a seasoned malpractice attorney in their corner to fight for the maximum compensation. To speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about filing a medical malpractice claim, please call us at 305-371-2692 today.