What is Medical Malpractice Liability for Wrong-Site Surgery?

“Few medical errors are as vivid and terrifying as those that involve patients who have undergone surgery on the wrong body part, undergone the incorrect procedure, or had a procedure intended for another patient.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)

medical malpractice wrong site surgery

Although it can be fairly easy to define what wrong-site surgery is, it can be more challenging to trace how the negligence actually occurred—and it can become a very difficult situation for patients who are the victims of these types of mistakes. 

Overall, this is a type of medical negligence that takes place when a surgical procedure is performed in the wrong place in the body, sometimes meaning on the wrong side. A wrong-side surgery is, therefore, a type of wrong-site surgery and can take place, for example, when an operation intended for the right ovary occurs in the left one. A type of wrong-site surgery that doesn’t involve sides of the body is when, say, the small intestine is operated on, rather than the large intestine. 

Wrong-site surgeries can, thankfully, be relatively rare. And yet, the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that perhaps as many as 90 percent of these types of errors go unreported. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shares that, out of all the wrong-site orthopedic surgeries performed in a six-month period:

  • 59% of them involved wrong-side surgeries
  • 23% of them involved wrong-site surgeries that didn’t involve a wrong side
  • 14% of them were the wrong procedures altogether
  • 5% of them were performed on the wrong patient

Plenty of surgeries, of course, are performed correctly. These statistics, however, raise the question of how these happen in the first place. The general answer is that, somewhere along the line, protocol was not observed. 

Medical Negligence From Failed Pre-Surgical Protocols

Hospitals have surgery protocols that dictate the steps taken before, during, and after surgical procedures take place. Specifics can be unique to each hospital system, but each should have a foolproof system of pre-surgery verifications, where numerous professionals verify the identity of the patient, that paperwork is fully and accurately completed, that the proper surgical site is marked, and so forth. This typically includes asking the patient to describe what procedure is to take place, and where, and often includes more than one medical professional verifying the specifics together as a double-checking and triple-checking procedure.

When a wrong-site surgery takes place, it’s therefore obvious that something went wrong in the protocols. A book titled Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses lists some of the most common places where the system can fail. 

These include a lack of institutional controls; the reliance on just one surgeon to determine the correct site; unusual time pressures, including large volumes of procedures and/or emergency surgeries; procedures requiring unusual patient placement; training issues; staffing issues; continuum of care issues; and more. 

Medical Malpractice and the Concept of Res Ipsa Loquitur 

This Latin phrase, res ipsa loquitur, translates into “the thing speaks for itself.” This term is used for this type of medical malpractice because what happened to the patient could only have occurred through negligence. For example, if a left kidney was removed but the right one was diseased, negligence clearly played a role. This kind of surgery is often referred to as a “never event.” That’s because, if protocols are followed, it should never occur.

After a form of wrong-site surgery is performed, it can be relatively simple to prove that it happened, by comparing the surgical recommendation records with what was performed on the person’s body.

Where it can get challenging, though, is to trace the variety of places where fault may lie. The reality is, for this to have happened, multiple breakdowns in the hospital’s checks and balances system had to have taken place. 

Liability in Wrong-Site Surgeries

In most cases, the surgeons involved in a wrong-site surgery will be liable for medical negligence. In addition, it’s possible that other medical staff could be held liable, as well, ranging from the anesthesiologist to the surgical prep team to nurses and more. 

It’s also possible that the hospital where the surgery was performed could have liability. In some cases, surgeons are employees of the hospital. In other cases, they are independent contractors who lease office space for their procedures. How this affects hospital liability after a wrong-site surgery can depend upon the agreement between the hospital and surgeons, and the laws of the state. 

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

When people suffer from wrong-site surgery, they may choose to bring a lawsuit against the professionals involved. The purpose of this is to seek compensation for damages that took place during their surgeries. Possible damages include:

  • Additional medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Lost wages and loss of future income
  • Changes to home or lifestyle

Have you experienced this? If so, who is protecting your interests? 

How Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers Can Help

Aggressive insurance companies and lawyers are ready to protect the hospital’s interests, which makes it challenging for a patient who has undergone a physically and emotionally painful experience to negotiate with them to receive fair compensation. For instance, the insurance company may offer you a settlement and even pressure you to take it, but it can be too low, not enough to compensate for your injuries. 

This is where experienced medical malpractice lawyers come in. 

A lawyer can look at your medical records and collaborate with trusted experts to understand the role that medical negligence played in your situation. A lawyer can advocate for you, fight for a settlement that provides relief for the physical and emotional suffering caused by a wrong-site surgery.

Harrell & Harrell, P.A.’s highly experienced medical malpractice lawyers will analyze your case and advise you on how to proceed, focused on ensuring you receive fair treatment—and fair compensation. Contact us online for a free consultation or call (904) 251-1111 today.

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