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Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler PLLC

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Surgical errors and medical malpractice: What do I need to know?

A surgical error is a type of medical malpractice that involves a mistake made on a patient during surgery. This type of medical malpractice includes some of the most severe types of mistakes. They are so serious that the government and medical community refer to these mistakes as never events, as in they should never happen. These types of events are broken down into three types: wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-patient errors.

Are these types of mistakes really still a problem?

It seems baffling that these types of errors still happen, but they do. Earlier this year, an 82-year-old man went to the hospital for a scheduled amputation. Due to serious health concerns, he needed to have his left leg removed. During preparations for the procedure the medical team put the preoperative mark on the wrong leg. When the patient awoke, he discovered his surgical team had mistakenly removed the wrong leg.

A more common example of wrong-site surgeries involves spine surgery. The spine is composed of many vertebrae. During spine surgery, neurosurgeons have operated on the wrong level of the spine. Errors can also happen when a surgeon performs surgeries on patients with similar last names. This can lead to a wrong-patient, or doing the wrong surgery on the wrong patient, error. According to a recent report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, these mistake are often the result of a failure to communicate.

Although there may be an explanation for the mistake, it is still important to hold the medical professional accountable for their wrongdoing. It is unfair to expect the patient and their family to manage the expenses that result from the mistake. A medical malpractice claim can lead to funds to help cover these expenses while also serving to encourage the surgeon and others within the same field to use more care during operations.

How can a patient build a malpractice claim?

The exact answer will depend on the state. This is because medical malpractice is a form of personal injury and personal injury cases are generally governed by state law. Most states operate on the theory of negligence for these types of cases, but the details for building the case can vary. In West Virginia, the patient would need to show that the health care provider failed to exercise the degree of care, skill and learning that is required for a reasonable, prudent health care provider within the same profession and that this failure caused the injury. Part of the process for building this claim includes gathering expert testimony and medical records.