When we sign the consent forms for surgery, we expect a positive outcome.

But according to a February 2020 report, surgery is cited as the second most common reason for a medical malpractice claim. In fact, the report revealed that one-fourth of medical malpractice cases between 2014 and 2018 were due to a surgery gone awry. Only diagnosis-related incidents, at 32%, had more malpractice claims in that time period. About 2,500 cases were studied for the report.

What was the surgical-related cause of the claims?

  • Practitioner performance, 73%
  • Retained foreign body, 7%
  • Unnecessary procedure, 4%
  • Delay in surgery, 3%
  • Wrong side/site/patient, 3%
  • Delay in surgery, 3%
  • Contraindicated procedure, 3%
  • Positioning, 2%
  • Pre-op evaluation, 2%

Among the cases that were studied, 20% of the surgical injuries were labeled as permanent significant, permanent major or permanent grave, with another 9% resulting in death. Additionally, 31% were classified as temporary major, and 17% were temporary minor.

Nearly four in 10 cases — 39% — cited the surgeon’s lack of technical skills, 17% were because of clinical judgment and 10% resulted from flaws in communication. Almost half of the malpractice claims came from three types of surgery: general, 22%; orthopedic, 17% and neurosurgery, 8%.

A surgical procedure puts our lives in the hands of someone else, and as this report shows, the results sometimes can be disastrous. Anyone who has been harmed in surgery, or the survivors of a patient who died as a result of surgery, has a right to seek compensation for future medical expenses and, in some cases, punitive damages.