Surgical Errors and Mistakes

Unfortunately, there are thousands of patients who are injured by surgical errors each year. These preventable mistakes often lead to medical malpractice lawsuits against healthcare providers, hospitals, and ambulatory surgical centers. Injuries from surgical errors can be very severe, and many patients will require lifelong care and treatment. In addition to the physical damage, the experience can also be emotionally traumatic for both the patient and their family. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a surgical error, please contact a medical malpractice attorney today.

The interior of an operating room
Although surgical errors occur for many reasons, most instances are caused by some form of human error and are completely preventable.

Causes of Surgical Errors

Although surgical errors occur for many reasons, most instances are caused by some form of human error and are completely preventable.


Inadequate skills and training are frequently the cause of surgical errors. Surgeons with less experience are more likely to make mistakes during a procedure.

Insufficient Planning

Occasionally, surgeons and other operating room professionals may not adequately prepare for the procedure that they are performing. Proper planning and preparation ensure that all necessary instruments are sterile and available for use, all required equipment is available and in working order, and that each step in the procedure has been thoroughly discussed.

Human Error

Human error is, unfortunately, one of the most frequent causes of surgical mistakes. Surgeons may make mistakes regarding incisions or using improper techniques. Additionally, nurses and anesthesiologists who are responsible for monitoring you during surgery may forget to check your vitals or administer too much medication.


Despite the fact that many hospitals place mandatory limits on the number of hours surgeons can go without rest, doctors are often overworked and fatigued. This lack of rest can result in serious errors during surgery.

Drugs or Alcohol

Often to combat fatigue, surgeons will turn to drugs or alcohol to help them remain alert during operations. However, this is a dangerous practice that seriously endangers the life of the patient.


Miscommunication between medical professionals is a common cause of surgical errors. Illegible handwriting, mishearing directions over the phone, and other miscommunications can result in serious mistakes.

Unsanitary Conditions

As patients, we believe hospitals and operating rooms are completely sanitary. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Instruments that have not been properly sanitized can result in serious, life-threatening infections.  

Types of Surgical Errors

There is a wide range of surgical errors that a medical professional can commit, resulting in lifelong complications for patients and their families.

Operating on the Wrong Body Part

Operating on the wrong body part or on the wrong side of the body results in unnecessary incisions, putting the patient at greater risk of infection and causing additional scarring. If the surgeon does not quickly realize the mistake, this error can result in the unnecessary removal of an organ or damage to other body parts.

Accidental Incisions

Accidental incisions can occur when the wrong part of the body is marked for surgery. They can also occur as a result of a careless or reckless surgeon. The doctor may make an incision in an initial location, only to realize the incision is not close enough to the area requiring surgery.

Conducting the Wrong Type of Surgery

Performing the wrong type of surgery is often due to miscommunication or misdiagnosis. Regardless of the cause, conducting the wrong type of surgery can result in unnecessary injury to the patient.

Foreign Objects Left Inside the Patient

It is all too common for surgeons to leave surgical instruments or tools in the patient’s body, such as a sponge. Not only can this cause pain and complications for the patient, but it will also require an additional procedure to remove the abandoned instrument.

Using the Wrong Surgical Instruments

Usually stemming from improper training or inadequate planning, using the wrong surgical instruments can increase a patient’s risk of infection. It can also result in larger incisions, higher rates of infection, and many other complications.

Anesthesia or Medical Complications

Nurses and anesthesiologists are on hand during all surgeries to administer appropriate levels of anesthesia and monitor the patient's vital signs throughout the procedure. Unfortunately, a negligent nurse or anesthesiologist may give a patient too much or too little medication. They may also fail to verify a patient’s medical history for allergies or potential drug interactions.

Improper Monitoring

Failure to properly monitor a patient’s vital signs during surgery can result in extended procedure times, unnecessary complications, and life-threatening emergencies.

Damaging Nerves or Other Tissues

An inexperienced or careless surgeon can cause severe damage to a patient’s body by damaging nerves or tissue surrounding the surgical site. Nerve and tissue damage can cause paralysis and other complications.

Complications from Surgical Errors

No matter what the cause of the mistake, a surgical error can cause many life-threatening or debilitating complications for the patient, including:

  • Nerve damage - This complication can result in muscle weakness or partial paralysis in the affected area. In some cases, additional surgeries and physical rehabilitation may help patients regain strength.
  • Organ damage - Damage to the internal organs is a potential complication, especially in instances where a surgeon has used the wrong instrument or surgical technique. Organ damage can be life-threatening and will likely require additional procedures to repair the damage.
  • Internal bleeding - While bleeding is a risk of any surgery, internal bleeding can be the result of a reckless or negligent surgeon. Internal bleeding after a procedure is completed may go undetected, significantly increasing the risk of death or severe complications for the patient.
  • Scarring - Operating on the wrong side or body part can result in unnecessary scarring.
  • Disfigurement - Severe surgical errors can result in the disfigurement of a patient. An error can result in the unnecessary amputation of a body part, or the amputation of the wrong body part.
  • Disability - Lack of oxygen during surgery, overuse of anesthesia, or accidental nerve damage can result in temporary or permanent disability such as paralysis.
  • Death - Each year, many patients pass away as a result of a completely preventable surgical error.

Treatment After Surgical Errors

Many surgical errors require extensive and ongoing care to treat or correct the mistake.

Additional Surgeries to Correct Damage

In most surgical error cases, additional procedures are required to repair the damage. Additional surgeries may increase the patient’s risk for infection and other complications.  

Need for Ongoing Rehabilitation

Some surgical errors result in injuries that require long-term physical or mental rehabilitation. A patient may need physical therapy to regain motor skills or cognitive therapy to  relearn basic functions such as speaking and eating.

At-Home Care and Other Accommodations

Severe injuries may require extended at-home care from a medical professional. In cases of paralysis, the patient may need a wheelchair or other equipment. In these instances, the patient’s home and vehicle may need to be modified to accommodate such equipment.

Importance of Working with an Experienced Attorney

Regardless of the type of error committed or the injury suffered, it is important to work with an attorney who has extensive knowledge and experience in medical malpractice. A skilled attorney will have an understanding of common surgical procedures and will also consult with other medical professionals in the field. These third-party medical professionals can help determine if a surgical error occurred and if the error was the cause of the subsequent complications.

Your attorney can fight the insurance companies and the large corporations that often own hospitals to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Because surgical errors can result in severe, lifelong complications, your attorney will seek damages to compensate you for both your current and future medical expenses, in addition to lost wages. Your attorney will handle all the legal matters so that you can focus on your recovery.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury as a result of a surgical error, contact a medical practice attorney in your area today to schedule your free case evaluation. Your attorney can carefully review your case and discuss in depth the various legal options available to you.

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