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Surgical Error

Why Do Wrongful Amputations Occur?

August 10, 2021 by Carrie Capouellez
Wrongful Amputations

Doctors go through rigorous medical training so they can provide the best standard of care for their patients. While most doctors uphold this standard of care, there are instances when doctors commit grievous mistakes. While the planned loss of a limb is already a devastating event, it can be made much worse if the loss of the limb resulted from a wrongful amputation. Wrongful amputation might seem an extremely rare occurrence, but wrongful amputations do happen in hospitals across the country every year.

Wrongful amputations belong to a group of medical mistakes called “never events” because like the name suggests, these events should never happen when providing the standard of care expected. Hundreds of never events occur in hospitals each year, and the overall national number of never events has been steadily climbing.

Common Causes of Wrongful Amputation

There are a variety of causes of wrongful amputations, but they are most commonly caused by wrong-site amputation, misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and failure to treat a medical condition that causes the eventual amputation of a limb. There are specific procedures in place to help prevent wrong-site amputation, so when it does occur, it’s usually due to the negligence of several healthcare professionals. Hospital staff and nurses are responsible for correctly filling out medical charts. If one person lists the wrong limb for amputation, it can set the stage for catastrophic consequences.

Common causes of wrong-site amputation include:

  • X-rays and other scans being positioned backwards – Surgeons often rely on x-rays and other diagnostic scans during surgery to see into a patient’s body before the procedure. If these scans are positioned incorrectly, it could appear as if the incorrect body part needs amputation.
  • Confusing markings – Before an operation, a healthcare professional will use a marker to indicate the limb to be amputated. This can sometimes be problematic if words or symbols written on the patient’s body become smudged. Best practice is for a surgeon to mark his initials on the limb to be amputated to prevent mistakes.
  • Incorrect consent forms – Surgeons use consent forms to confirm their patients have agreed to an amputation. If the healthcare staff or nurse who initially filled out the form listed the wrong limb and the mistake is not discovered, it could cause a wrong-site amputation.
  • Wrong patient – It seems unconceivable that the wrong patient would be put on the operating room table, but if a hospital is understaffed or patients have similar names or other similar identifying characteristics, it can increase the chance of mix-ups.
  • Doctors don’t take a time out – Before each surgery, doctors and operating room staff take a “time out” to go through a checklist of certain information – who is this patient, what are they suffering from, what procedure is going to be done, etc. When doctors and staff rush into surgery without taking a time out, they are more likely to amputate the wrong limb.

Some amputation errors are caused by medical errors like misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and failure to treat a medical condition. This can quickly lead to serious medical emergencies that result in amputations that should not have happened. A recent example of medical malpractice by misdiagnosis occurred in Anchorage, Alaska, where the federal government ultimately paid a local woman $21 million after a botched diagnosis led to the amputation of all four of her arms and legs.

During 2011, the Alaska Native Medical Center staff members were under the impression that their patient, Mardi Strong, had shingles, when she was actually suffering from a worsening skin infection in the early stages of sepsis. They discharged Ms. Strong, only for her to return several days later very near death and suffering septic shock. Unfortunately, doctors had no choice but to amputate all of her limbs.

When a patient experiences a wrongful amputation, they are permanently disfigured and face additional long-term complications that require further treatment. Many amputees suffer from phantom limb pain (PLP). Although the limb is no longer there, patients who suffer from PLP experience ongoing painful sensations coming from the part of the body where the amputated limb used to be. Some amputees continue to feel PLP for months and years after their amputation.

Victims of wrongful amputation also run the risk of infection of the amputated limb. If not properly treated, the infection could require additional surgeries. Wrongful amputation can also cause extreme emotional trauma for the patient, often leading to depression and anxiety.

Cost of Care for Wrongful Amputation Victims

In the event of a wrongful amputation, patients will have to face staggering medical costs throughout the rest of their lives. Medical costs can include prosthetics, occupational therapy, specialized medical equipment, and additional surgeries. These costs are made more challenging when the amputation prevents patients from gaining employment, causing a loss of income.

We rely on medical staff, doctors, and hospitals to help us recover from illness and conditions, but when they fail to provide the standard of care expected, patients can get injured. When doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals make a mistake during your treatment and you lose a part of your body because of their mistake, you can hold them responsible for medical malpractice.

Philadelphia Wrongful Amputation Attorneys

The Philadelphia wrongful amputation attorneys at Lopez McHugh LLP have been helping medical malpractice victims for over 30 years. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation to review your situation.

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