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Types of Surgical Errors That Can Result in Lawsuits

Mar 11, 2022

Advancements in health technology have made surgical procedures increasingly safer than they used to be. However, surgical errors still occur, sometimes with severe consequences for the victims. 


A surgical procedure may be the only way to treat some health conditions or it may be the last resort. Over 4,000 surgical errors occur in the United States each year, many of which are preventable mistakes. If you or your loved one is a victim of surgical errors, you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against those responsible. 

What Are Surgical Errors?

Surgical errors are preventable mistakes that happen during a surgical procedure and which injure the patient. Although every surgery is an inherently risky procedure, surgical errors happen largely because of human error or negligence. 

Common Errors in Surgical Procedures

Surgical errors are varied and cause different degrees of harm to the victims. Some common surgical errors are referred to as never events. These are serious events that should never have happened because they are inherently preventable. Some of the common surgical errors include:

Operations on the Wrong Location of the Body

Sometimes, surgeons operate on the wrong location. This is commonly known as wrong-site surgery (WSS). Operating on the wrong location may involve operating on the wrong side Of the body. An example might be the removal of the left kidney when the right kidney was the one that required removal. WSS also includes operating on the wrong body part, on the kidney instead of the liver, for example 

Conducting the Wrong Procedure

Conducting the wrong procedure covers every instance where instead of the surgery that a patient needed, a different surgery was performed. Conducting the wrong procedure can stem from an error in diagnosis. It can also occur if a patient is mistaken for another patient, that is, if a procedure meant for patient A is performed on patient B.

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is a medical treatment used to prevent patients from feeling pain during surgeries or procedures. Anesthesia is administered in different ways, depending on the procedure to be performed. It can be inhaled as gas through a mask, injected into the body, introduced intravenously, or applied on the skin.

Anesthesia errors can cause complications during or after the surgery. Some can result in severe, permanent injuries, or even death. Common anesthesia errors include:

  • Administering the wrong anesthesia dosage needed for a procedure
  • Failing to analyze a patient’s medical history to discover potential anesthesia complications
  • Delaying anesthesia administration or administering the wrong type of anesthesia
  • Failing to guide the patient on what to do or avoid doing before the surgery
  • Using defective equipment
  • Failing to properly monitor a patient under anesthesia during and after surgery
  • Failing to detect or treat anesthesia complications or an allergic reaction to anesthesia

Damaging Nerves During Surgery

Nerve damage can lead to various types of complications depending on the type of nerve that was damaged. Surgical mistakes can lead to nerve damage. A surgeon may mistakenly nick or cut a nerve, or cause scar tissue that puts pressure on the nerves. Symptoms like numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, loss of sensation, and loss of mobility are some signs of nerve damage. If you experience any of these symptoms after surgery, it might indicate that a nerve has been damaged. While some nerve damage is temporary and may heal after a few days or weeks, other damages may be permanent. 

Leaving Medical Equipment Inside the Patient

Forgetting surgical tools inside patients’ bodies is a serious issue. When a piece of equipment or surgical tool is left inside a patient’s body, the patient will need another procedure to remove the object. This will lead to a longer recovery process and it may cause other complications, such as infections, organ blockage, and organ perforation.

The abdomen, pelvis, and retroperitoneum are parts of the body where surgical instruments get left behind. Sponges are the most common object forgotten because they usually blend in visually with the rest of the body. Other objects that are frequently forgotten in patients' bodies include clamps, retractors, scalpels, scissors, needles, forceps, surgical masks, and gloves.

How Do These Medical Errors Occur?

The general reason surgical errors occur is negligence on the part of the health providers or a lapse in the system. However, there are more specific reasons you may suffer from a surgical mistake.

Errors in Communication

Many health care providers work together in a single surgery — surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Surgical procedures require precise and careful communication among those involved, both between members of the surgical team and in interaction with the patient. Any communication error can have disastrous consequences. 

Human Error

Human beings make mistakes, but in surgical procedures, the stakes are high and errors can have disastrous consequences. Human error in surgical procedures can manifest as using the wrong technique in a procedure or as an anesthesia error. Most cases of wrong-site surgeries or forgetting a surgical tool in a patient’s body result from human error. Some hospitals have protocols and surgical safety checklists in place to minimize human errors.


Many health workers work in a highly stressful and fast-paced environment and are usually overworked. A fatigued health worker is more likely to make mistakes, especially in surgical procedures that don’t leave room for error.

What To Do if You've Experienced a Surgical Mistake

A surgical mistake can be life-altering. Suddenly, a procedure that was supposed to help you feel better has worsened your situation or caused new and unrelated injuries. If you or your loved one is a victim of a surgical mistake, you may feel overwhelmed and at a loss what to do. 

The first thing you should do if you’ve experienced a surgical error is to contact a surgical error attorney. A surgical error lawyer will help to discover exactly what went wrong in the procedure in order to determine if you have a case. You may be able to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit and get compensation for your injuries.

The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at The Spence Law Firm have handled various cases of surgical errors and can help you get adequate compensation for your injuries. Contact us today to see if you have a case.

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