Surgical Errors

Undergoing surgery is worrying enough, especially if the procedure is for an emergency or a recently diagnosed medical condition. You expect everyone on your medical team to help you achieve the best outcome possible. However, many kinds of surgical errors can occur, from operating on the wrong part of the body to performing the wrong procedure.

When a healthcare provider commits a surgical error, it falls under the category of medical malpractice, sometimes called medical negligence. In these cases, the patient may be eligible to pursue compensation from those at fault. Victims will need experienced guidance from attorneys well-versed in Pennsylvania law. At Lopez McHugh LLP, our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers can consult with you for free to explain your options.

When Does a Surgical Error Become Surgical Malpractice?

Any surgery, from cosmetic to life-saving, comes with some risk. In addition to the standard dangers, surgeries come with life-threatening concerns like anesthesia errors. Patients can and do experience serious injuries or death as the result of surgical mistakes. So how can a person know if their surgery gone wrong rises to the level of surgical malpractice?

Just because a surgery goes “well” does not mean a patient will not suffer an injury. Strict protocols dictate how and when doctors perform surgery. These protocols often help define the “standard of care.” When protocols are not followed, the standard of care is violated, and damage results. This can rise to the level of surgical malpractice.

Analyzing how the provider performed the surgery and the choices they made is a critical part of developing evidence in a surgical errors case. Your medical malpractice attorney must be able to show that the physician or other healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care and did not follow the steps that a reasonable surgeon or surgical worker would in a similar situation. Your case depends on showing negligence on the part of those responsible.

Surgical Errors Have Many Causes

Medical providers are respected and appreciated because they have usually completed many years of education and training. They spend even longer in the field, treating a wide range of conditions with a variety of patients. However, most surgical errors come down to some aspect of human negligence, whether by the surgeon, nurses, prep staff, or even the equipment manufacturer.

The most common factors that lead to surgical errors are incompetence, failure to plan, poor communication, equipment malfunctions, and aftercare neglect. Determining the full range of at-fault parties requires investigation by a skilled medical malpractice attorney.


Surgeons complete specialized training to perform their work, but some fail to maintain their education as the field changes. They use outdated methods and avoid learning new techniques that can bring better results. When a surgeon does not have the latest skills and training, they can be liable for medical malpractice if they do not meet the standard of care and their patient is injured as a result.

Nurses and doctors may leave instruments or materials inside the patient, requiring additional treatment or surgery to correct the problem. In serious instances, the patient may experience bleeding or organ damage. If you place your health and life in the hands of someone who refused to improve their skills and it caused you harm, you deserve to seek financial relief to cope with the consequences.

Failure to Plan

Every person involved in an operation must review the patient’s history and compare it to the standard medication and surgical techniques. For example, choosing to perform a surgery that requires extensive repositioning of the patient can be challenging if they already have spinal cord damage. Care must be taken to avoid causing additional harm.

When anesthesiologists and their nurses do not interview the patient and account for other concerns, they could administer the wrong dosage of complex medicines during the operation. Other failures from poor planning could result in preparing the wrong tools or equipment.

Failure to Communicate Clearly

A common joke is that doctors have bad handwriting. Unfortunately, this actually happens sometimes, and the resulting damage to a patient could be extensive. Other communication failures include not recording critical medical information, not reviewing a procedure with a more experienced surgeon, operating on the wrong site, and failing to account for drug allergies or pre-existing conditions.

Each of these failures can lead to severe injury or even death.

Equipment Errors

Equipment that is poorly designed or manufactured can cause surgical errors. If it has not been maintained, repaired, and calibrated properly, failing machinery can give incorrect readings, leading surgeons to make mistakes during an operation. They may not react in time to an emergency because of faulty equipment.

Hospital staff and maintenance personnel can be held accountable for these issues. Your attorney may even be able to pursue the manufacturer if there is evidence the machinery has a history of production problems that cause surgical errors.

Neglect After the Surgery

Post-surgical care is nearly as crucial to the success of a procedure as the operation itself. Patients can experience infections, septic shock, and other issues if they are not carefully monitored and treated after they leave the recovery room.

Who Can Be Found Liable for Surgical Errors?

There are a number of practitioners involved in each surgical procedure, from prep personnel to surgeons. Anesthesiologists, nurses, and hospital staff can all play a part in causing an injury before, during, and after a procedure. Identifying each at-fault party and investigating the ways they contributed to the patient’s injuries allows the victim to seek full justice for their suffering.

Doctors and Specialists

Doctors responsible for the patient before their procedure can set the patient up for a surgical error without even participating in the operation. If they fail to conduct proper testing or incorrectly diagnose patients, the surgeon may make the wrong choices based on incorrect information.

Surgeons and surgical staff trust that a physician has completed all necessary requirements to accurately identify the patient’s condition and make the right recommendations. Those findings allow physicians to create a sound treatment plan. When a doctor is incompetent, patients risk suffering a misdiagnosis, leaving their original injury or illness untreated. They also risk repercussions to the body from undergoing unnecessary or incorrect surgery.


Surgeons have a great responsibility to every patient that trusts them with a procedure. When a surgeon acts negligently during surgery, the repercussions can be life-altering or life-ending for patients. Surgeons who harm a patient can and should be held liable for their mistakes, especially catastrophic ones.

Behavior such as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, being fatigued, or failing to properly review the patient’s medical history can have devastating consequences. Surgeons may operate on the wrong body part, remove the wrong organ, or injure other body parts during the procedure.


The anesthesiologist’s role during surgery is significant. They must accurately determine the correct dosage for multiple drugs to keep the patient asleep, immobile, and without pain. Mistakes in their assessment and preparation can allow the person to wake up during the procedure or feel pain but be unable to move.

The anesthesiologist monitors the patient throughout the surgery to keep them stable and still for the surgeon to do their work. They must also ensure they do not use too much medicine and cause the patient difficulty waking up after an operation. They also need to ensure patients receive enough oxygen during the surgery to avoid causing suffocation or brain damage.

Surgical Nurses

These specially trained nurses assist surgeons and anesthesiologists during surgery. Because surgical nurses are integral to medical procedures, liability also extends to them when they participate in surgery. While their professional duty is to support the doctors during operations, their responsibility to patients goes beyond that. Nurses can injure patients if they are under the influence, fatigued, or fail to conduct appropriate post-surgical care.

Hospital Staff

Hospitals can also be found liable for patient injuries and death. When staff members fail to meet cleanliness and safety protocols, patients are left at risk of infection or increased surgical risks. Improperly sanitized or prepared tools and equipment can malfunction or spread germs that lead to post-surgery illnesses or injuries.

These negligent actions breach state and federal regulations meant to protect patients. Individuals, as well as the hospital or medical facility itself, can be held responsible in a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit.

Potential Value of a Surgical Error Claim

Facing recovery from any surgery is difficult enough, but when your medical team commits a surgical error, you may have a much longer recovery. If you went in for a routine procedure but are left with a heart condition because of someone’s negligence, you deserve fair and appropriate compensation for the additional bills and suffering that result.

Common damages in a surgical errors case include economic losses such as medical expenses, lost income, and non-economic losses. These include the subjective damage you experienced, such as your emotional distress. Some examples of losses our clients have claimed as a result of surgical errors include:

  • All doctor and hospital costs
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Disability
  • Amputation
  • Medical and mobility devices
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Pain and suffering

Proving Negligence in a Surgical Errors Case

The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP specialize in developing strong cases to support the needs of our clients who suffer surgical errors. We begin by discussing your situation in a free consultation. We then gather evidence to support your claim for negligence and the losses you have experienced.

We rely on a network of medical experts to provide expert testimony and input to our cases. We establish each element of negligence carefully to persuade insurance representatives and trial juries that you deserve full and fair compensation and justice.

Duty of Care

The first element of negligence your attorney must prove is that you and the healthcare provider had a patient-provider relationship, and they owed you a duty of care. This is usually simple to do with medical records and your personal notes about your doctor visits.

Breach of the Standard of Care

This second element is somewhat more challenging to demonstrate since the standard of care must be clearly established. We employ other doctors and surgeons trained in the same field as the defendant to testify. They communicate what reasonable expectations should be in a case such as yours.


In addition to showing that the practitioner breached the standard of care, you must show proof that your worsened condition or new injury is directly related to the defendant’s failure to uphold the duty of care. Your medical malpractice attorney will establish this link in order to claim compensation for your damages.

Injury and Damages

When you successfully establish the direct link between the defendant’s actions and your injury or illness, you can introduce your claim for financial relief for your damages. There should be clear evidence showing you would not have suffered the harm or expenses if not for their careless actions.

Speak With Our Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorneys Today

All surgeries carry risk, but if surgical errors occur, patients have the right to seek financial compensation for their injuries. While patients might feel afraid to speak out against their surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse, or hospital, doing so can prevent more terrible mistakes from happening to other patients and save lives.

No patient should ever struggle with the aftermath of inadequate and life-threatening care at the hands of those they’ve trusted with their life. If you or someone you love has been injured by a surgical error, contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Lopez McHugh LLP today to discuss your case at no cost.


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