Undergoing any surgery, minor or life-changing, is a serious matter. Whether it is having tonsils removed, a heart transplant, or any other type of surgery, there are always risks involved. If surgery does result in an error, that does not necessarily mean medical malpractice was committed. Read further to understand when a surgical error equals medical malpractice and who should be held liable for the mistake.
Examples of Surgical Errors
A surgical error is a preventable mistake made during surgery. There are many types of surgical errors that can occur. These are some common errors:
- Nerve damage
- Incorrect anesthesia dosage
- Leaving surgical equipment inside a patient
- Operating on the wrong body part
Common factors that lead to errors
Insufficient Planning. The medical staff must always be aware of a patient’s medical history and of pre-existing conditions which could create complications. They should know all medications being taken and any possible side effects. Medical staff should ensure all equipment is cleaned properly and is available when needed by the surgeon.
Incompetence. Doctors go through years of training and studying, but not all doctors have the competence to perform surgeries. A surgeon may be inexperienced with a certain procedure, and therefore, a more experienced surgeon should either perform or supervise the surgery. Surgeons may also unwisely decide to skip a certain step during the surgery to save time, but any shortcuts can lead to an error.
Poor Communication. Miscommunication among the surgical staff can lead to serious consequences. The wrong body part could get marked for surgery, the patient’s medication and dosage could get mixed up, and surgical equipment could be missing or not be sanitized properly.
Neglect. This could include failure to properly sterilize surgical instruments or using defective equipment. Sometimes this is directly related to other areas such as poor communication or fatigue.
Fatigue, Drugs & Alcohol. Surgeons and the support staff work long, draining shifts. It is understandable that fatigue will set in occasionally, yet they have a responsibility to inform their superiors when they need rest or that another surgeon/staff member needs to be called in to perform or assist in the procedure so any mistakes can be avoided. Surgeons and their staff frequently deal with extremely stressful and emotional situations. Some staff members or surgeons may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to cope. They may also turn to certain drugs in an effort to maintain energy and stay awake. No matter the reasoning, it is unacceptable for anyone to perform or assist in a surgery under the influence.When does a Surgical Error turn into Medical Malpractice?
When does a Surgical Error turn into Medical Malpractice?
If a surgical error occurs, that does not automatically mean someone is liable for medical malpractice. All surgeries involve risks and therefore, patients are typically required to sign an “informed consent” form stating that they understand these risks.
In order to have a viable medical malpractice claim, the following elements must exist:
The mistake has to fall below the medical standard of care. Doctors have a legal obligation to perform the standard of care needed and avoid foreseeable injury. It must be proven that the doctor failed to meet these standards of care. For example, if a surgeon left a surgical sponge in a body cavity after performing surgery, this would show a failure in maintaining a standard of care.
The doctor’s negligence must be the cause of the patient’s injury. This injury must also have caused damages, whether economic, non-economic, or both. As examples, lost wages, future earnings, and medical bills are economic damages, while pain, suffering, and emotional distress are non-economic damages.
Talk with an Experienced Attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered due to a surgical error, you should talk with an experienced malpractice attorney. Speaking with an attorney in a timely manner will help you avoid any difficulties with a statute of limitations. Call (740) 374-5346 or fill out a contact form, and we will get in touch with you.