Many people today are health conscious. We listen to medical experts who are happy to impart their knowledge of how the body functions, and we follow the advice that best suits us—all in an attempt to live a happier, healthier life. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fall ill. When that happens, we further entrust our care to doctors who evaluate us and give us options for treatment. Sometimes, that treatment involves surgery. And any time we submit to surgery we place an enormous amount of trust in our surgeon. We literally trust them to cut into our bodies in an attempt to eradicate the disease.
But all humans make mistakes, and surgeons are human. Therefore, it follows that surgeons make mistakes. Many of those mistakes are minor and never result in actual harm to a patient. But others are not so harmless. Significant mistakes made during surgery can dramatically and negatively impact the rest of a patient’s life. And for those mistakes, the law allows medical malpractice lawsuits so that victims can recover financial damages. This means that the victim is legally entitled to monetary compensation to help them face difficulties caused by the mistake.
All Mistakes Are Not Equal
For a surgical mistake to serve as the basis for a medical malpractice claim, it must fulfill two requirements. First, the action that led to the mistake must fall below the appropriate medical standard of care. Second, the mistake must lead to actual damages or harm to the patient. In other words, if a doctor makes a negligent mistake but that mistake results in no harm to the patient, then medical malpractice does not apply.
Duty of Care
Every doctor owes their patients a duty of care. This means in any given medical situation, doctors must live up to certain standards. The minimum standard of care is described as the treatment that any other doctor in their location, with similar training and experience, would provide in similar circumstances. As an example, let’s consider the following.
Suppose that John goes in for surgery that requires anesthesia. The anesthesiologist runs through the typical pre-surgery questions, does their calculations, and determines an appropriate amount of medication to give the patient during surgery. In this first example, let’s assume that the doctor did everything right. She asked the right questions, performed the correct calculations, and performed her job well according to established medical protocols. But John has an unexpected reaction to the medication which ends up disabling him for life.
In this situation, even though John suffered serious consequences from the medication given to him by his doctor, no medical malpractice likely exists. The doctor performed her job well and according to established practices. The harm was either an unforeseeable anomaly or possibly a known rare reaction the patient was warned about prior to surgery. All surgery carries some risk. And as long as those risks were explained and accepted by the patient—there is no actionable malpractice in this case.
Now let’s take the same initial situation but add a twist. Say that the anesthesiologist was not feeling well the day of John’s surgery. She tries to do her job but fails to properly read over John’s medical history before administering the medication. John goes into anaphylactic shock during surgery because he is allergic to the medication and suffers devastating injuries as a result.
In this case, the doctor is likely at fault. Failing to properly read the medical chart prior to administering anesthesia falls below the standard of care expected for anesthesiologists, and therefore, John likely has an actionable medical malpractice case against the doctor.
Types of Surgical Errors
There are many types of surgical errors that can form the basis of a malpractice case. Here are some examples of actionable surgical errors that have happened to Tennesseeans over the years
- Failure to get informed consent;
- Anesthesia errors that cause brain damage;
- Anesthesia errors that cause unnecessary pain or trauma during surgery;
- Improper sterilization of surgical tools;
- Incisions made on the wrong side of the body, or to the wrong organ;
- Surgical equipment mistakenly left inside a patient after surgery;
- Accidentally severing nerves that cause loss of sensation or paralysis;
- Removing the wrong body part;
- Failure to properly monitor a patient post-surgery;
- Mixing up patients and performing the wrong surgery on the wrong person; and
- Failure to treat any complications that arise.
These and other surgical errors fall outside the standard duty of care that doctors owe each and every patient they operate on. These types of mistakes can lead to years of untold pain and anguish for unsuspecting patients. And even though doctors inform patients of inherent risks, these types of errors go well beyond the scope of routine surgical risks and can form a solid basis for a malpractice claim.
Reasons for Medical Mistakes
Although the reasons behind surgical mistakes do not really matter, it can be helpful for your peace of mind to understand what factors can lead to such unthinkable mistakes. Rest assured that none of these reasons is acceptable legally. We simply thought it was helpful to acknowledge that surgical blunders may occur due to:
- Incompetence, which may or may not be due to inexperience;
- Unwarranted shortcuts during surgery;
- Insufficient preparation for the procedure;
- Insufficient preparation for possible complications;
- Fatigue, which may or may not be due to extended surgical work hours or too many surgeries performed in one day;
- Poor communication amongst medical personnel regarding patient name, history, medications, allergies, and other critically important information;
- Surgeon impairment due to substance abuse; or
- Lack of focus or distractions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But familiarity with reasons for human error may help you cope a bit better with the trauma you have experienced.
Let Our Attorneys Fight for You
Regardless of the reason, a surgeon’s misstep can wreak havoc with your life. The compassionate lawyers at Batson Nolan PLC have handled many cases where our clients have gone through similar circumstances, and we know your pain. It is our mission to assist victims of medical malpractice to pursue and obtain the compensation they deserve and need to move on with their lives. So if you or a loved one was injured by surgical negligence, call us today or contact us online to set up a free initial consultation.