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What Are the Most Concerning Long-Term Surgical Error Complications?

Published on January 14, 2024

Patients are at their most vulnerable when they place themselves into the hands of a surgical team, knowing that the procedure occurs while they are deeply under anesthesia and no longer able to actively participate in their medical care. You trust your medical providers to perform within the medical community’s standard of care to protect your safety and maximize the chances of a favorable outcome. But what if you wake up from surgery only to learn that your life will never be the same, not from the medical condition that brought you to surgery, but from a preventable medical error that occurred during the surgery?

More than 250,000 deaths occur each year in the United States due to medical malpractice, making it the country’s third leading cause of death. This alarming statistic includes thousands of deaths from surgical errors and related complications. Not all surgical errors cause death. Instead, some patients are left with permanent harm, including long-term health implications and disability.

What Are the Most Concerning Long-Term Surgical Error Complications?

Common Surgical Errors Cases

Before having surgery, it’s helpful to understand all possible outcomes, including the possibility of a surgical error causing irreversible harm. Though the vast majority of surgeries progress as planned, and successful surgeries save lives every day, when a medical mistake occurs during surgery, it can have dire consequences for the patient. Common surgical errors cited in medical malpractice claims include:

  • Anesthesia errors
  • Hemorrhage
  • Blood clots
  • Post-operative infections
  • Wrong medication/wrong dosage
  • Medical equipment failure or defective medical devices
  • Cutting or damaging a nerve
  • Damaging a nearby organ
  • Failure to obtain informed consent

All of these common medical mistakes during surgery can cause harm, leaving consequences such as additional medical expenses, further medical procedures, long-term disability, impairment, or death.

Dangerous Surgical Errors Known as “Never Events”

Other types of surgical errors aren’t as common but are even more shocking when they occur. These mistakes are considered “never events” by the medical community due to their dire consequences. Devastating surgical errors sometimes occur despite their label as “never events,” and the extensive safety protocols and safeguards in place to prevent them. These so-called never events in surgeries include:

  • Awake surgeries
  • Surgical tools left behind in a patient’s body cavity
  • Wrong site surgery
  • Wrong side surgery
  • Wrong patient surgery

When any of the above surgical errors occur, the results are devastating to the patient. The loss of a healthy body part, surgery on the wrong side or site, or an unnecessary surgery performed on the wrong patient not only causes irreparable harm such as the loss of a limb or internal organ, the addition of unnecessary medical implants or devices, and unnecessary scarring, but in many cases, the patient still requires the original surgery they had scheduled, meaning they suffer an additional surgery and far longer recovery times. 

The Most Serious Complications From Surgical Errors

Requiring the amputation of a limb due to a medical condition is traumatic, but can you imagine waking up to learn that the surgical team amputated the wrong limb? Not only did you lose a healthy arm or leg, but the one with the medical condition still requires amputation. Or what if you went into surgery and found yourself awake on the operating table—able to feel the pain and terror but unable to move or indicate your awake status to the surgical team? What if a loved one went into surgery for a minor procedure but suffered from a lack of oxygen to the brain due to an anesthesia error and emerged from surgery with brain damage and permanent cognitive impairment?

All of these tragic outcomes seem unimaginable, yet they’ve occurred to real patients across the United States, leaving life-long consequences such as the following:

  • Permanent partial or total disability
  • Permanent cognitive impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Limb loss
  • Loss of a viable organ or body part
  • Loss of a bodily function or sense, such as vision or hearing
  • Nerve damage
  • Emotional trauma/PTSD

PTSD is a common consequence of surgical errors with long-term complications due to the trauma of the event and the necessity of facing permanent physical and emotional effects. Patients who experience awake surgery often suffer from severe, long-term emotional injuries such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

When serious and/or permanent injuries occur due to surgical errors, injury victims may file medical malpractice lawsuits against the provider or medical facility. Though this doesn’t erase the injury, it can help recover economic damages like medical expenses, lost income, and compensation for pain and suffering as well as compensation for diminished life quality or loss of enjoyment of life.

When a serious surgical error results in the patient’s death, family members may file a wrongful death claim for additional damages such as funeral costs and lost income and benefits for the number of working years the family member had remaining to them had they survived.

Common Causes of Surgical Errors

Many surgical mistakes result from communication errors between staff members despite protocols in place for preventing them. This may result from negligent hiring or staff training processes. Other causes of surgical errors include the following:

  • Medical provider incompetence
  • A fatigued provider
  • Alcohol or drug abuse by a surgeon, anesthesiologist, or other provider on the surgical team
  • Unsterilized medical equipment or negligent staff sterilization procedures
  • Failure to give proper post-op care and instructions
  • Defective medical devices

Understanding the Standard of Care for Surgeons and Other Medical Providers

All doctors and other medical providers have a special duty of care toward patients. This duty requires them to treat a patient at the level of care accepted by the medical community. In medical malpractice lawsuits, the jury is tasked with asking the question, “Would another, reasonable doctor have acted the same way or made the same choice as the provider at fault?” If the answer is “no,” then the victim of the surgical error is entitled to compensation with the help of a Phoenix medical malpractice attorney. Proving doctor liability requires demonstrating the following legal points of liability for medical malpractice:

  • A doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time the malpractice occurred
  • The doctor owed a duty of care to the patient to treat them at the industry-accepted standard of medical care
  • The doctor breached this duty through negligence
  • Their negligent breach of duty directly caused injury
  • The injury victim suffered significant damages from the injury

When the above is true, the liable provider or facility owes compensation to the victim for their damages. Though financial compensation cannot erase the injury, it can help open doors to the best medical care and relieve financial burdens. A successful malpractice claim also gives victims a sense of justice and accountability for the wrong done to them.

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The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.