Medical Malpractice > Surgical Errors


Surgical errors are among the most common medical malpractice case examples in the U.S. They include errors such as operating on the wrong person or body part, anesthesia errors, leaving an instrument in the body, or making an incorrect incision that leads to infection or even death. 

Thousands of surgical errors occur each year. They happen when a healthcare professional is careless, incompetent, or inexperienced. However, even the best surgeons make mistakes. And often, the harm done is minimal. When the doctor assigned a patient’s care does not meet the standard of care, and significant damage occurs directly related to that lapse of proper care, surgical errors become medical malpractice.


Misdiagnosis – a misdiagnosis can lead to an unnecessary or wrong surgical procedure. Surgical errors are more likely to occur when the following conditions are misdiagnosed in the emergency room:

  • Appendicitis
  • Bone fractures
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Stroke

Operating mistakes – an unnecessary surgical procedure or procedure performed on the wrong body part (or even the wrong patient) isn’t always the result of a misdiagnosis. It can be the cause of a clerical error, a temporary lapse in concentration, or poor team communication. 

Anesthesia – anesthesia must be administered in the correct dosage to the right effect at the right time. Lack of attention to these details, missing harmful drug interactions, or anesthesia allergies can affect patient health before, during, or after surgery.  

Nerve damage – a pinched nerve or cut can cause severe mechanical issues for the patient. Numbness or even loss of movement can result. 

Organ damage – a surgeon’s scalpel can puncture or perforate organs, resulting in sometimes fatal consequences. 

Objects left inside body cavity – infections and worse can result from this careless action. It’s more common than you might think that a surgical team stitches up after surgery and leaves an instrument, sponge, or other surgical items inside the patient’s body. 

Negligence in recovery – a sometimes overlooked surgical element is post-operative care. The surgical team must pay attention to any adverse reactions to surgery and avoid releasing a patient from care too early. 


The simplest way to determine if you have a potential claim is to consider the “four Ds” of medical negligence:  

  • Duty of care. Did the surgeon owe a commitment to the patient? In other words, was there a relationship? 
  • Dereliction of that duty. Did the surgeon violate the standard of care? Did they commit malpractice?  
  • Direct causation. If the surgeon violated the standard of care, did that negligence cause (or contribute to) damages?   
  • Damages. Can you prove the damages (medical bills, lost wages, funeral & burial costs, e.g.) incurred by the surgical error?


You should consult an attorney if a surgical error falls outside the expected standard of care and causes direct harm to the patient. If the surgical error was avoidable or was the result of negligence or inattention, a medical malpractice attorney may suggest you file a claim with the state.


Surgeons are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. They may be inebriated, overworked, understaffed, or unprepared. As a result, their work can become sloppy or undisciplined. The best healthcare providers put checks in place to avoid catastrophic mistakes, but sometimes these measures are not enough to prevent surgical errors. 

A medical malpractice lawyer with years of experience and a knowledgeable bench of medical experts can make all the difference. It takes compassion to understand the pain accompanying a life-altering surgical error. The feelings accompanying a surgical malpractice case need not be the last word. Contact the medical malpractice lawyers of Montross Miller for a free consultation to see if you have a claim and should take legal action.


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