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Surgical Errors that Potentially Qualify as Medical Malpractice

Surgical Errors that Should Never Occur — Never Events

Surgical errors that should never occur have acquired a name, called "never events." These types of errors are a form of medical malpractice. In many cases, patients who suffer from them have a legal basis to pursue a medical malpractice case.

Types of Surgical Errors that Are Never Events

The three main types of never events are wrong-site, wrong-patient and wrong-procedure surgery.

Wrong-site Surgery

Sometimes surgeons operate on the wrong site, such as removing the wrong kidney, operating on the wrong vertebra or removing an appendix when that was not the patient's medical issue.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) wrong site surgeries are rare, but are becoming more common. The number of wrong-site surgeries being reported increased from 15 cases in 1998 to 592 cats in 2007. It is likely that medical practitioners do not report about 10 percent of the wrong-site surgeries that occur.

Wrong-patient Surgery

An example is two patients are under the medical care of the same surgeon and have the same or a similar last name. Their medical charts get mixed up and the patient receives the surgery intended for the other patient.


The surgeon performs an appendectomy when the patient was scheduled for hernia surgery.

What Types of Situations Can Lead to Surgical Errors?

When hospitals or outpatient surgery offices lack a formal system to verify patients and medical procedures, these types of surgical errors have a greater risk of occurring. Types of preventative measures include:

  • Using two patient identifiers. An example is checking the patients name on the I.D. wrist bracelet and asking the patient his/her name and date of birth.
  • Using a time out. A "time-out" before performing invasive surgeries is now part of a universal protocol created to prevent wrong-site, wrong-patient and wrong-procedure events. A time-out is a planned pause prior to beginning surgery. During the pause, the surgeon reviews important aspects of the surgery to be performed with all the personnel involved in the surgery.
  • Marking surgical sites. The NCBI recommends a verification process to confirm documents, mark the surgical site and involve the patient or family.

When reasonable precautions to prevent surgical errors are missing, evidence may point to medical malpractice.

At Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP https://sacksteinlaw.com, we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your concerns.

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