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Surgical Errors are complications, associated with a surgical procedure, that should not have occurred had the physician, anesthetist and/or OR staff exercised reasonable care.

Prior to a surgery, physicians have a responsibility to discuss with their patient risks that could occur despite appropriate care that would be important to a typical patient in deciding whether to proceed with an operation. This process is an acknowledgment that surgeries are not risk-free. Virtually every type of surgery has known complications that can occur, typically in very small percentages of cases, despite appropriate care. 

However, physicians and the rest of the healthcare team also have an obligation to their patients not to mis-step and cause a complication that would not have happened had they been careful. When a complication develops because of substandard care on the part of the physician or other members of the team, they are legally responsible for the damage that ensues. 

As many would assume, general surgery, neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery are the three most common specialties for these types of “surgical” errors. The lack of diligence can be as simple as the unintended leaving of a sponge or device in a patient, to as involved as failing to appreciate anatomical landmarks or properly identify structures and injuring a blood vessel away from what should have been the surgical field.

Also, while an initial complication may fall under the “known risk” category, the failure to timely recognize and address or repair the problem becomes the critical error. The post-op condition of the patient as well as laboratory and radiologic studies may be telling the physician that something is wrong, but the doctor fails to see the issue in time to avoid or minimize the impact. The physician and/or team bears responsibility for those omissions as well.

Regardless of the magnitude of the error, the resulting damage can be permanent, devastating, in some instances life-threatening, and require far more medical care than had ever been anticipated when the patient agreed to trust the healthcare team to provide proper care. 

Pat has been examining and analyzing surgical complications throughout his 30+ career handling medical-legal matters, thoroughly investigating whether a surgical problem may have been an unavoidable setback to recovery compared to one that, with proper care, never should have happened. Should you wish to have a similar investigation into a surgical complication you or a family member suffered we welcome the opportunity to assist you.


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