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Medical Malpractice

8 Types of Surgical Malpractice Injuries

Putting your life in the hands of a surgeon is a big decision. You trust that, although there are risks to any operation, these highly trained medical professionals will adhere to their legal and ethical duty of care.

Still, Canadian laws and regulations intended to protect patients can fall short when surgeons who know the risks of surgical errors choose to ignore them. Medical negligence or malpractice occurs when their actions cause serious injury. Patients or their families experiencing negligence at a surgeon’s hands may be due financial compensation for their injuries, pain and suffering, and lost income.

Surgical Malpractice Injuries

The causes of substandard operating room care include fatigue, apathy, and incompetence. The devastating effects of surgical mistakes on the patient can be debilitating, permanent, and lethal. When this happens, surgeons are liable for the harm they cause. Here’s a list of surgical malpractice examples:

1. Wrong Site Surgery

A wrong site surgery (WSS) occurs when a surgeon or other healthcare provider performs an invasive procedure on an incorrect part or side of the body (the medical field calls these iatrogenic errors). Wrong site surgeries are a common compensable medical malpractice error.

WSS can occur when there are procedural or communication breakdowns within the operating team. Procedural non-compliance, where the surgeon or healthcare provider fails to follow standardized procedures like surgical site verification, is another cause. Risk factors for WSS include emergency cases, multiple operating surgeons, more than one procedure in a single surgical session, patient obesity or physical abnormalities, time pressures, unfamiliar procedures, instruments, or changes to operating room configuration.

2. Wrong Patient Surgery

Surgeons are often required to think quickly on the job. They may also be required to work long hours and treat many patients without rest. When surgeons are careless and pushed to the limit they can make unthinkable mistakes—such as committing wrong patient surgery.

Just like it sounds, wrong patient surgery involves delivering surgical treatment to the wrong patient, hurting instead of helping by injuring or removing healthy tissue. The root causes of wrong patient surgery include scheduling errors, errors in pre-op or holding, operating errors, and the organizational culture of the surgeon’s employer. This means that wrong person surgery can reflect failures by both the surgeon who is liable for malpractice and the healthcare facility, which can also be liable for medical malpractice.

3. Anesthesia Related Errors

Not all surgery related errors are the fault of the surgeon. Medical malpractice or negligence can be committed by nearly all health providers, including those who administer anesthesia. These professionals can violate medical standards by providing too much or too little anesthesia due to dosing errors, patient allergies, or failure to monitor a patient while anesthetized. The injuries resulting from anesthesia errors include heart attack, brain damage, asphyxia, and coma. These errors can also result in wrongful death.

4. Failure to Remove an Object After Surgery

Surgical objects and tools, especially those made to be small or low-profile, can be left in the patient by an uncareful surgeon. Items commonly left behind in these scenarios are sponges, needles, or surgical instruments.

Warning signs of a retained surgical object include:

  • Coughing or vomiting up blood.
  • Difficulty urinating.
  • Abnormal pain and swelling at the surgical site.
  • Fever.
  • Recurrent headaches.
  • Bloody or black stools.
  • Abscess or fistula forming.
  • Numbness or swelling in the feet or hands.
  • Difficulty eating, breathing, or swallowing.
  • A foul or unpleasant odour coming from your incision site.
  • An Inability to keep food or liquids down.
  • A overall decline in health.

5. Nerve Damage

Nerve damage occurs when a surgeon fails to properly account for a nerve while performing an operation. Damaged nerves lead to a medical disorder called peripheral neuropathy. This condition is marked by your body’s inability to send and receive vital electrochemical messages due to damaged nerves, resulting in painful and debilitating symptoms. Surgical inexperience or carelessness with surgical equipment are the most common causes of surgically induced nerve damage. Symptoms of nerve damage can depend on the nerve that’s damaged but can often include pain, numbness, paralysis, spasms, and muscle atrophy.

6. Post Operative Infections

Among the most serious risks of surgery are bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens entering the body and causing infection. “Duty of care” requires that surgeons take major precautions to prevent post-operative infections. When these steps, such as equipment sterilization, aren’t taken, it can result in disease carrying microbes entering or growing in the surgical environment, and from there, attacking the patient’s body during and after surgery.

If these infections are avoidable or aren’t promptly treated, the at-fault surgeon can be held liable for the serious complications the patient experiences. Post-operative infections can be debilitating and prevent patients from working. These damages can be included in any medical negligence or malpractice claim made against the offending surgeon.

7. Incorrect Procedure

Similar to wrong site and wrong patient surgery, incorrect procedures occur when there are errors in the preparation process. Two cases can be confused, leading to a patient receiving unnecessary surgery. The patient must not only recover from the unnecessary surgery but their original surgery may be delayed as a result. In the end, victims of incorrect procedures not only undergo the trauma of two surgeries but are likely to feel betrayed by their doctor’s carelessness.

8. Failure to Obtain Informed Consent

As a part of their duty of care, surgeons and other medical professionals have to receive a patient’s informed consent before performing any procedure. Only in rare cases can a physician bypass informed consent to save a patient’s life. By not receiving informed consent or inadequately explaining the risks of a procedure with the intention of gaining misinformed consent, the surgeon has committed medical negligence.