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Understanding a patient’s rights after a surgical error

On Behalf of | Jun 24, 2021 | Personal Injury |

Surgeries do not always go as planned. And sometimes, the outcome is not what the patient hoped for. This does not necessarily mean that a surgical error occurred, though, as all medical procedures carry some sort of risk.  How can a patient tell the difference?

What is a surgical error?

A surgical error is the result of a preventable mistake. In other words, the surgeon or other healthcare provider was negligent. Examples of a surgical error include:

  • An instrument, sponge or piece of gauze was left inside of the body.
  • Too much or too little anesthesia medication was given to the patient.
  • A body part or tissue adjacent to the surgical site was sliced.
  • The operation site was inadequately cleaned and caused a post-surgical infection.
  • The wrong body part was operated on. 
  • The wrong procedure was performed.

Not all errors are this obvious cut, though.  In some cases, it can still be difficult for a patient to know if they experienced a surgical error.

How do I know if I experienced a surgical error?

If something goes wrong during the surgery, a patient will first turn to their surgeon for an explanation. Doctors are not infallible and some may not be forthcoming about the mistakes they have made. In some medical facilities, there can be a culture of “cover-up” where providers protect each other no matter what. That means that a patient’s injury, infection or experience may be explained away as an ordinary side effect, when in fact it is not.

Patients who suspect they experienced a surgical error should speak with a personal injury or medical malpractice attorney. An attorney does not have the same loyalties that a doctor has, and can help a patient understand their legal rights. In Connecticut, the statute of limitations for surgical error cases is two or three years, depending on the exact circumstances. The clock starts ticking either on the day of the surgery when the error was discovered or “in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered.”

How common are surgical errors in the U.S.?

A study released in early 2021 found that at least 4,000 surgical errors occur each year. These errors can happen if the surgeon or anesthesiologist was:

  • Distracted during the procedure
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Tired or overworked
  • In a rush to complete the surgery
  • Not properly trained for that particular procedure

Surgical errors can cause life-altering injuries such as permanent disfigurement, serious infections, unnecessary amputations, and brain damage due to a lack of oxygen.  Negligent physicians should be held accountable for these avoidable mistakes.