Medical Negligence Can Lead to Life-Changing and Fatal Surgical Errors

Medical Negligence Can Lead to Life-Changing and Fatal Surgical Errors

We rely on doctors and other medical professionals to diagnose and treat our illnesses and diseases. It is a difficult and demanding profession, and most doctors do everything they can to help their patients. However, serious errors can happen and may cause permanent damage or death. These errors qualify as medical malpractice.

Surgical errors are among the most dangerous forms of medical negligence. They can leave medical negligence victims with life-changing injuries that result in massive medical bills and time away from work, sometimes permanently.

If you or a loved one suffered a surgical error, you may take legal action against the hospital, surgical center, doctor, or other members of the surgical team that harmed you. Below we take a closer look at surgical errors, how medical negligence leads to these errors, and contact medical malpractice lawyers on how to seek compensation for damages after a surgical error.

Defining Medical Negligence

Surgeons, surgical teams, and other medical professionals involved with patient care before, during, and after surgery have a legal obligation to provide a standard of care to patients that aligns with accepted medical community standards. Medical negligence occurs when doctors and other medical professionals do not meet that standard of care. Sometimes the negligence is intentional, and other times it results from an oversight or error, which might be a specific action or the failure to take action.

Examples of medical negligence and surgical errors that often give rise to a personal injury claim include:


Misdiagnoses are common medical errors. If doctors don’t get a diagnosis right, it could lead to unnecessary surgery.

For example, doctors find a mass inside a patient, perform a biopsy, and test it for cancer. The lab makes a mistake and determines the mass is cancerous when it is actually benign and does not need to be removed. The doctor performs an unnecessary surgery to remove the mass.

No surgery is completely risk-free, even if the doctor does everything right. Thus, patients must, with their doctors’ help, weigh the risks and benefits before going under the scalpel. Unnecessary surgery forces the patient to undergo an unwarranted painful recovery, often causing them to miss work and incur hefty medical bills, and could lead to other complications.

Wrong Person/Wrong Site Surgery

A wrong-site surgery occurs when doctors perform a procedure on the wrong body area. For example, a patient may need surgeons to remove their right kidney, but the surgical team removes the left kidney, or spine surgery may be done on the wrong level of vertebrae.

A wrong-person surgery is precisely as it sounds a surgical team performs the right procedure on the wrong patient. The medical community refers to these as never events, which should never happen in a healthcare setting. Medical experts generally agree that these surgical errors occur because of communication breakdown between surgical and preoperative preparation teams, initiating the error long before a patient is in an operating room.

Retained Foreign Objects

Surgeons, surgical nurses, and the rest of the surgical team use various tools and materials to perform surgery. Occasionally, a surgeon closes up a patient without removing everything used during surgery, leaving a foreign object inside the patient.

Examples of potential surgical leftovers include sponges, swabs, clamps, electrodes, and drains. Patients must undergo surgery to remove the item. It may take a long time to discover the item, which can cause substantial pain, infection, and other complications.

Improper IV Insertion

Those with a planned procedure typically need an intravenous (IV) device inserted into their body to administer anesthesia and other medication. During the insertion or removal of an IV, doctors and nurses can create an air embolism, a collection of tiny air bubbles that enter the blood. Damaged tubing, failure to prime the tubing, and the failure to stop air from getting sucked back into the vein lead to embolisms. Embolisms can cause massive pain and even death.

Anesthesia Errors

Technically, an anesthesia error is a medication error. However, almost all surgical patients must receive anesthesia to put them under before surgery, so we can consider them surgical errors. These errors include giving the wrong dose, giving the wrong drug, or failing to appropriately monitor the patient to make sure the drugs are working as they are supposed to so the patient does not wake up or feel pain.

Poor materials handling, including unlabeled or poorly labeled syringes, inexperience, and improper pump use, lead to drug administration errors in one out of 211 surgical patients. Failure to get a complete medical history is also a form of medical negligence that can lead to dangerous anesthesia errors. Without a complete patient history, doctors can miss allergies, leading to a potentially dangerous allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Recovering Damages After a Surgical Error

Medical Negligence Can Lead to Life-Changing and Fatal Surgical Errors

If a surgical error constituting medical malpractice harmed you, Michigan law permits you to recover damages from the hospital, surgical center, surgeon, or other medical professionals involved with your surgery.

Victims of medical negligence who have to deal with a surgical error often face significant economic and non-economic losses. Settlements and jury awards for surgical error claims can recover compensation for:

Medical Expenses

Surgery is already expensive. Patients with less than stellar insurance coverage sometimes pay thousands out of pocket to get life-saving surgeries, and uninsured patients can face seemingly insurmountable debt.

Once a surgical error happens, patients rack up additional medical bills, which can include costs for:

  • Ambulance service
  • Emergency room treatment
  • Repeated doctor visits to deal with pain, illness, or other symptoms brought on by an error
  • Additional surgeries and aftercare
  • Hospitalization
  • Mental health services to cope with the emotional trauma of a surgical error
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy


Lost Income

Surgical patients must take time away from work for the procedure and recovery. A surgical error can lead to additional weeks or months away from work, which is sometimes financially devastating to a household. As a result, victims of medical negligence may not have money for regular expenses, may deplete their savings or have to run up their credit cards to survive, or may even face vehicle repossession or foreclosure.

Unfortunately, some surgical errors cause permanent damage that may prevent victims from returning to their jobs or running a business they own. In these cases, the victim can seek future lost income or earning capacity through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering make up most of the non-economic damages in personal injury lawsuits. Non-economic damages are not quantifiable by the money you cannot quantify them with receipts or bills. Instead, lawyers use subjective criteria to evaluate the physical and emotional pain and suffering someone feels after an injury. Surgical errors are so serious that they typically justify significant compensation for pain and suffering.

On the physical side, a patient can experience severe pain after a surgical error for example, if someone wakes up during surgery because of an anesthesia mix-up or if doctors leave a surgical tool in their body. Sometimes, the patient feels acute and immediate pain; at other times, it can start mild and worsen.

If a surgical error requires another surgery, a patient must face the pain and suffering of another procedure and recovery. Some surgical errors cause permanent damage, forcing patients to face a lifetime of pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering damages can also include the emotional pain and suffering a patient must endure from a surgical error. Emotional trauma comes in various forms. For example, some patients require additional, painful medical treatments after a medical provider they trusted harmed them. Other patients face depression, anxiety, and other issues related to their specific condition or injury. Finally, a surgical error can place a massive economic burden on a household, creating additional financial stress.

Other Damages

Medical expenses lost income, and pain and suffering are the most common damages in personal injury claims. However, you can include any economic and non-economic losses in a medical negligence claim, including costs for wheelchairs,  installing hand bars or a wheelchair ramp at home, loss of consortium with a spouse, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.

Your medical malpractice attorney will review the facts of your case and the injuries you have suffered from a surgical error and advise you on which damages apply to your case. When reviewing your case, your lawyer may also give you a ballpark range of how much you might expect to receive in a settlement or jury award if you prevail in your claim.

When Fatal Surgical Errors Happen

Unfortunately, some surgical errors lead to immediate death, or complications can lead to death weeks or months later. If you lost a loved one because of a surgical error, Michigan permits eligible surviving family members to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Michigan has a complicated statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits to be filed, so it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to avoid missing the deadline to file a claim.

If you have a viable wrongful death claim for medical negligence, you could receive compensation for economic and non-economic losses your loved one suffered up until death. Additionally, wrongful death claims often provide compensation to family members.

Many settlements include compensation for burial or cremation and funeral or memorial services. Non-economic losses for surviving family members can include damages like loss of companionship, parental guidance, and support for minor children, plus losses based on the relationship between the family member and the deceased.

Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case and your questions about filing a wrongful death claim after a surgical error took your loved one’s life.

Get the Help You Need to Take Action After a Surgical Error

Scott R. Melton,  Lawyer for Medical Negligence near Grand Rapids, MI
Scott R. Melton, Medical Negligence Lawyer

A surgical error caused by medical negligence takes a physical, emotional, and financial toll on patients and their families. It’s worse when a patient feels ill and doctors do not discover the error for some time.

Surgery is a major life event that involves a certain amount of risk. That risk is supposed to decrease when skilled surgeons and their teams follow all accepted medical standards and perform their duties without making mistakes.

You and your family should not have to face the financial burden of a surgical error resulting from medical negligence. Receiving compensation won’t undo the harm, but it can provide funds for future medical treatment and keep you on solid financial ground if you cannot return to work or lose a loved one due to a surgical error.

Medical negligence cases are notoriously complex. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Grand Rapids personal injury law firm can handle the details of your claim and advocate for you to receive compensation, while you focus on recovering from your injuries.