Surgical Medical Malpractice Cases: An Overview

medical team performing surgery in an operating theatre

The prospect of needing to undergo a surgical procedure can be scary. Even routine operations can give cause for concern because of the different variables and potential factors that can influence the outcome of the procedure. Compounding that fear is the reality that surgical errors are a leading cause of harm to patients within hospital systems. Surgical medical malpractice occurs in instances where an error is the result of negligence and the surgical team breaches the standard of care. In those cases, victims and their families may be entitled to compensation. Medical errors that occur during surgery can leave a patient with serious, life-altering injuries. In this blog, we will examine surgical medical malpractice and discover why it occurs, what the consequences are, and who can be held responsible for a patient’s injuries and losses.

Types of Surgical Errors

Because of the complex nature of surgeries, outcomes can never be predicted with 100% accuracy. A wide variety of issues that can occur before, during, and after surgery, including pre-existing conditions, the condition and performance of surgical equipment, the quality of communication amongst the surgical team, and the surgeon’s competency, can play key roles in a patient’s surgical outcome. Examples of surgical errors can include:

  • Instrument slip during surgery: If the surgeon’s scalpel or other instrument slips during an operation, the patient may experience internal bleeding or damage to organs, both of which can have serious consequences. When these errors occur, it is important to determine if factors like inexperience, lack of solid judgement, lack of skill or necessary training, distraction, or out-of-date medical knowledge, could have contributed to the injury.
  • Foreign objects left inside the patient during surgery: If a surgical team fails to extract all objects used during surgery from the patient, including items like surgical sponges, clamps, gauze, and small instruments, the patient may develop a serious infection, scarring, nerve damage, or experience postoperative complications. Various protocols and safety checks are in place in hospital systems to prevent these types of errors. In many instances, this error results in the need for additional surgery, putting the patient at risk once again in the operating room.
  • Medication error: Surgeries often require that patients take multiple preoperative and postoperative medications. If an error occurs in the proper administration of medication, like administering the wrong medication, administering the wrong dose of the correct medication, or administering a medication that the patient is allergic to, the patient may experience an adverse reaction and may not be able to recover quickly after surgery.
  • Anaesthesia errors: Since anaesthesia is required for most surgical procedures, the anaesthesiologist is a critical member of the surgical team. Their role includes administering or overseeing administration of anaesthesia, monitoring the patient’s level of consciousness and vital signs, and managing the patient’s pain during the operation. If they make an error, like providing an incorrect amount of anaesthesia, failing to properly monitor the patient during surgery, failing to review the patient’s medical history in order to avoid contraindications including allergies, and failing to respond quickly if the patient has an adverse reaction to the anaesthesia administered, the consequences can be serious. The patient may develop a brain injury, experience nerve damage, or go into cardiac arrest.
  • Wrongful surgery: In rare instances, surgery may be performed on the wrong patient, on the wrong body part of the right patient, or wrongly on the right patient. These cases can obviously have catastrophic fallout because a patient either did not receive the treatment they desperately needed or received treatment that was not medically necessary. These errors can cause serious damage to a patient’s body and can have profound impacts on the rest of their life. These types of errors are known as “never events,” meaning they should never occur and clearly indicate a fundamental breakdown in safety protocols and procedures within a hospital setting. These events cause serious harm to patients, sometimes even resulting in death. Even more frustrating is the fact they are preventable if an organisation implements appropriate systems and procedures along with checks and balances to ensure “never events” never happen.

What Factors Contribute to the Occurrence of Surgical Malpractice?

As we have discussed, every surgical procedure carries inherent risks and potential complications. Even surgeries where no errors occur can have negative outcomes for a patient. When adverse outcomes occur after surgery, you may be left wondering what happened and what factors contributed to your injury. If a critical error did occur, and it was the result of negligence, some factors that could have contributed may include:

  • Inadequate or improper pre-surgical assessment and planning: Before an operation begins, the surgical team, led by a surgeon, should develop a thorough preoperative plan. The plan should include the expected outcome of the surgery for the patient, a step-by-step outline of the surgical procedure, and a full list of potential complications and how they will be addressed, should they arise during surgery. The patient’s medical history and options for surgical techniques will be reviewed during the development of the preoperative plan. The preop plan affects the patient’s diagnosis and treatment and is designed to ensure optimal outcomes and best assign resources. If the pre-op plan is incomplete or fails to take key medical history into account, the surgery may not be successful, and the patient may suffer serious injuries as a result.
  • Inadequate postoperative care: Once the surgery is complete, it is still critical that the medical team continue to care for and monitor the progress of the patient. Proper follow-up care is vital to a patient’s recovery after surgery. This care includes monitoring the patient for postoperative infection and other complications and providing the patient with thorough instructions and education for care once they are discharged from the hospital or surgical centre.
  • Contamination that occurs before, during, or after the surgical procedure: It is vital that hospitals and surgical centres maintain clean, sanitised, and hygienic environments in the operating room, recovery rooms, and in pre-operative waiting areas. If not, the patient could develop a serious infection, which could lead to devastating, lasting injuries. If a patient develops an infection, their body may not be able to recover, and catastrophic events, including death, may occur.
  • Overcrowding in a hospital or a hurried surgical team: When an operating room is overbooked or understaffed or an emergency room is overcrowded, surgeons and their teams may feel rushed and try to complete operations quicker than they should. This can obviously lead to mistakes and errors that could have been prevented if the proper time had been allotted for the patient’s procedure.
  • Poor communication: In order for a surgical team to perform routine and complex procedures efficiently and effectively, solid communication must be in place. When communication falls apart, serious mistakes can be made. If a member of the surgical team does not listen to instructions, fails to communicate a critical update to another team member, or does not effectively communicate, the surgery may not go as planned, medication errors can occur, necessary equipment may not be present, and the surgery, in general, may be ripe for errors.
  • An exhausted surgeon or surgical team: A surgeon and their team must be sharp and focused in order to perform surgeries well and without errors. If, however, a team member is suffering from fatigue, they may not be able to perform to their highest ability and may be much more likely to make a critical mistake.
  • Incompetence, lack of skill, or lack of training: Surgeons should be highly skilled and trained and competent in the surgical field and specific operation they will perform. When they perform an operation for which they are not qualified or prepared, the results can be devastating. Surgeries and the skills needed to perform them well are complex, nuanced, and difficult to attain. It is vital that the surgeon and every member of their team be completely trained and possess the skills necessary to perform their duties.
  • The impairment of a team member due to the use of alcohol or drugs: In rare cases, a member of the surgical team may make a mistake because they have consumed a substance, like alcohol, prescription drugs, or marijuana, that inhibits their ability to perform their job. Consuming substances that impact a person’s motor skills and judgement can mean they are more likely to make a catastrophic mistake during an operation.

These factors all represent a potential breach in the standard of care owed to the patient.

The Impact of Surgical Errors

When surgical-related errors occur, patients can be left with serious, life-altering injuries that may necessitate additional surgery, medical treatment, and physical therapy. These injuries can include:

  • Hospital-acquired infections (HAI)
  • Brain damage
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Organ punctures or perforations, or other damage
  • Internal bleeding
  • Chronic pain
  • Nerve damage injuries
  • Tendon/muscle damage

While some surgical errors are obvious, such as wrong-site surgeries, some errors result in injuries that are not immediately detectable. For example, in cases where a surgeon failed to remove a foreign object from the patient, an infection may not develop until days, weeks, or even months later. In both instances, however, the patient’s quality of life may be drastically impacted. They may suffer from a lifelong disability and emotional distress, have a diminished enjoyment of life, lose income, and incur serious financial obligations in relation to treatment of their injury.

Who Can Be Held Responsible for Surgical Medical Malpractice?

The surgical team can consist of many different medical providers, including surgeons, anaesthesiologists, certified registered nurse anaesthetists (CRNA), operating room nurses, surgical techs, and physician assistants. Every member of the team has a critical role to play, and a mistake made by any one or multiple team members could have catastrophic consequences on the patient to whom they are providing care. If an injury was the result of negligence committed by any one of the surgical team members, they and their supervisor can be held liable for a patient’s losses. Additionally, the hospital that employs them may also be liable.

Have You or a Loved One Been Harmed by Surgical Medical Malpractice?

If you suspect that you or a loved one was the victim of a surgical error, you need to seek competent legal advice as soon as possible. Klein Lawyers handles surgical medical malpractice cases, has a stellar reputation, and has an outstanding track record. We have the resources, knowledge, and experience Canadians need to get the justice and compensation they deserve.

We will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review any needed records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. During the case, we will retain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the injury that occurred. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life while we focus on your case.

We keep you informed throughout the entire case so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what is going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. Too often, we hear concerns expressed by potential clients about what the process will be like, what they will need to do, how often they will hear from their lawyers, and what will be expected of them. We will make it clear right from the start. You will know what to expect, and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.

Klein Lawyers Can Help

Klein Lawyers has over 30 years of success and experience in the legal field. During that time, we have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of Canadians who need legal representation. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop standing up to medical professionals who harm individuals through their negligence.

Contact Us Today

Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There is no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We are here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.