Surgical Error Lawyer in Washington, D.C.: Representing Victims of Malpractice

The mere word surgery can bring on feelings of anxiety. Going under the knife requires courage from you and confidence in your medical team. Patients facing surgical procedures place their trust— and their life—in their surgeon’s hands. While all surgeries involve risks and surgical errors can occur, even for the most experienced surgeons. In order for a surgical error to be considered malpractice, a surgeon must:

  1. Fail to follow the appropriate standard of care
  2. The failure must be the actual and proximate cause of the harm

In the medical field, the sort of surgical mistakes that result in malpractice claims are often referred to as never events—the types of events that should never happen. Research from John Hopkins University, published in the journal Surgery in 2012, found that never events happen at least 4,000 times a year in the United States. The research identified some alarming consequences of these surgical errors, including:

  • Fifty-nine percent of patients experienced temporary injury
  • Thirty-three percent of patients were permanently injured
  • Six percent of the cases resulted in death

The report also estimated that surgeons left foreign objects in patients at least 39 times a week and operated on the wrong patient or body part 20 times a week.

According to WebMD, hospitals are required to report surgical error malpractice judgments to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Researchers agree that these numbers are sometimes low due to the fact that sometimes after surgery, items left behind are never discovered. An unsettling thought when it comes to sponges or instruments left behind within the body.

Understanding the Standard of Care for Surgery

The standard of care a patient is entitled to receive is the quality of care that a healthcare professional in the same community, with the same training and experience, would perform under similar circumstances. Surgical errors should not occur when a surgeon follows the appropriate standard of care. When a surgeon fails to follow the standard of care and it causes his patient harm, it may be grounds for a malpractice claim.

Types of Surgical Errors

There are numerous types of errors that can occur during surgery. The following list is just a few examples:

  • Cutting a nerve
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Making a mistake with the anesthesia
  • Leaving an instrument or sponge inside the body
  • Failure to note a patient’s medical history, resulting in difficulties during surgery

Why Surgical Errors Occur

Surgical errors can result from lots of different factors, including some that relate directly to the surgeon’s condition, qualifications, and practices. For example, an error can occur when:

  • The surgeon is fatigued
  • The surgeon is incompetent or not properly trained in the procedure
  • The surgeon takes shortcuts due to a heavy caseload
  • Medical equipment malfunctions or is used improperly during surgery
  • There is miscommunication between surgeons and operating room staff

Surgeon Fatigue is a Very Real Problem

There’s no doubt you want your surgeon wide awake for your surgery. In too many cases, however, surgeons are overworked and suffering from severe fatigue. A lack of sleep has the following effect on surgeons according to the American College of Surgeons:

  • Reduced motivation
  • Irritability
  • Impaired communication
  • Diminished reaction time
  • Slowed or faulty information processing
  • Inability to stay focused

Surgeons working night shifts and who are on-call suffer from lack of sleep, as do those cross-treating several patients at once or dealing with emergency interruptions. Nearly all adults require a minimum of six to eight hours of sleep a day to function effectively, and doctors are no different. Personal stresses at home, pressure from a patient’s family, and dealing with hospital bureaucracy can further sap a surgeon’s energy and cause a lack of sleep.

Know Your Surgeon

A little knowledge about your healthcare provider and your health can go a long way in reducing your risk of becoming a victim of a surgical error and medical malpractice. Learn more about your surgeon’s background—including their success rate with your type of surgery. Ask friends or family if they’ve ever been a patient of the surgeon. Find out where they went to school and how long they’ve been in practice. Feel free to ask your surgeon for a lot of this information. Their willingness to share—or not share—will speak volumes. With a little investigating you might uncover something that makes you change doctors or that reduces your anxiety—either way, hopefully, it will reduce the chance that you will ever end up injured by a surgical error.

Detecting Surgical Error

Some surgical errors are obvious, like operating on the wrong limb. But, oftentimes, you may not know right away if you have been the victim of a surgical error. Doctors should tell you if something went wrong that shouldn’t have, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, instead, you will only find out a surgical error occurred by picking up clues. If recovery nurses or other hospital staff make odd remarks to you about something strange that happened in surgery, for example. Or if stories change from caregiver-to-caregiver about why your surgery didn’t turn out as expected. Or, if your post-operative condition or care differs from what you were led to understand it would be, without explanation.

Because it can be difficult to tune-in to these sort of clues when you’re recovering from surgery, especially while you’re still in the hospital and coming out of anesthesia, it can help to have someone you trust by your side to ask questions and observe your medical team. And, if you suspect a surgical error has occurred, it can be helpful to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as practicable.

Surgical Error Lawyer in Washington, D.C.

At The Abelson Law Firm, we have experience handling cases where surgical errors have resulted in severe, disabling injuries, and death. We know how to prepare solid, effective cases that demonstrate that a surgeon has made a never mistake. We handle cases in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Pittsburgh; Boston; and Philadelphia.

Surgery is meant to repair bodies, remove disease, and improve a patient’s medical condition. New medical technologies emerge every day—most with the purpose of making procedures faster and easier. But, the element of human error will always be at play. No matter how many medical machines the surgeon uses, or how fancy the machines are, it is a surgeon’s responsibility to the patient to follow the standard of care.

If you suspect you or a loved one has been the victim of a surgical error that led to harm, we can help you evaluate whether you have a claim. For a free consultation and discussion of your legal options, contact us today or call (202) 331-0600.


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