Medical and surgical errors

Lavelle Solicitors regularly represents clients in medical negligence and surgical errors cases. Unfortunately, errors sometimes occur during surgical procedures.

A surgeon has a high risk medical position. In his daily life, he surgically opens or exposes a part of an individual’s body and alters it in some way. There are many things that can go wrong and things going wrong out of the ordinary for surgery can lead to a medical or surgical error claim.

Some side effects of surgery cannot be predicted and can happen to any surgeon. These include things like heavy bleeding (unless an unexpected artery was cut), infection and pain. All surgeries have these to some extent and they are explained to the patient prior to the surgery. The patient signs the consent form indicating that they know these things are possibilities in the surgery the patient is having. The consent form also shows the name of the surgery so the patient signs off that he or she knows exactly what is about to take place.

What constitutes a surgical error?

Surgical errors can constitute medical malpractice if the surgeon engaged in negligent conduct that fell below the accepted standard of care when comparing his work to a reasonably surgeon practicing in the same field and under the same circumstances. In addition to the error, the patient must be injured as a result of that error.

Surgical errors have to have been preventable. Some surgical errors are because of incompetence on the surgeon’s part but most result from bad preoperative planning or from inadequate work processes or procedures.

It is a true fact that thousands of patients must suffer from a surgical error. In the US, a 1999 Institute of Medicine study estimated that 44,000-98,000 people suffer from medical errors of which surgical errors are a subset. Surgeries stemming from heart problems, automobile accidents, organ transplants, and joint replacements are among the types of surgeries that result in malpractice claims.

There are several categories of surgical errors. These include the following:

  • Incorrect incisions
  • Wrong site surgery
  • Operating on the wrong patient
  • Leaving equipment inside the patient
  • Giving the patient nerve damage
  • Errors in anesthesia

What are the causes of physician errors?
Physicians and their staff follow established protocols before, during, and after surgery in order to avoid the kinds of errors that lead to malpractice. Regardless of written and verbal protocols, mistakes can be made causing litigation. Some of these are:

  • Inadequate preoperative planning so that one part, a complete medical history, reactions to medications and surgical risks, is missed and damage is the result.
  • Miscommunication can happen. For example, the wrong leg might be marked for surgery or a nurse might misread the dosage of a drug or not list a known abnormal reaction to a drug. All sponges and pieces of equipment must be counted and relayed to the doctor so nothing gets left inside the patient after the surgery is over.
  • The surgeon can be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or can be fatigued. These things can impair the judgment of the surgeon or anesthesiologist.
  • This can mean that someone failed to properly sterilize the surgical equipment and the unsterile equipment could cause a serious infection such as septic shock.
  • While surgeons undergo years of training and study, they can still be found incompetent do to malfeasance in the operating room.

For more information on surgical error claims please contact Avril Scally at ascally@lavellesolicitors.ie

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