Imagine going in for a routine surgery, like having your tonsils removed. The nurses and medical staff prep you, and soon you are asleep from anesthesia. The next thing you know, you wake up, and realize something horrible has happened. Your leg has been amputated. Unfortunately, this is not the plot to a horror movie, but another wrong site surgical error. Wrong site surgical errors are not as uncommon as you might think. Every year, there are around 64 cases of wrong site surgical errors in Pennsylvania, with many resulting in permanent disability, catastrophic injury, or wrongful death.
Are Surgical Errors Medical Malpractice?
Many people seem to believe that anything that goes wrong during a surgery is a surgical error and thus medical malpractice. The truth is that the analysis and determination as to whether a decision or act during surgery constitutes medical malpractice is a fact-specific and governed by the medical standard of care in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a bad medical result alone does not always constitute medical malpractice however it is one of the elements. Rather, medical malpractice in Pennsylvania requires the doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, or other medical professional to have deviated from the accepted medical standard of care. The standard of care in Pennsylvania can be roughly summarized as a deviation from the decision or type of care a similarly situated medical professional would provide or make.
Medical malpractices in Pennsylvania must be supported by the testimony of expert witnesses. The standards for expert witnesses and other aspects of a medical malpractice suit are set forth in Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act. MCARE also governs statute of limitations periods, statute of repose, aspects of patient safety, professional liability, and other aspects of a medical malpractice surgical error lawsuit.
Wrong Site Surgical Errors
Wrong site surgery includes operating on the wrong side or site of the body, performing the incorrect surgical procedure, or operating on the wrong patient. It is considered one of the most egregious medical errors that can occur, and is almost always preventable. Something as simple as a checklist could prevent this horrific type of accident. So why do wrong site surgical errors continue to happen?
Communication failures, time pressure, noncompliance with operating procedures, or lack of formal operating procedures can result in wrong site surgeries. Other factors that increase the risk of wrong site surgery include multiple surgeons, multiple procedures, room changes, staff changes, and obesity. Because wrong site surgeries continue to happen every year, the Joint Commission, the organization that provides hospitals with accreditation developed the Universal Protocol as a way of reducing and preventing wrong site surgeries. The three steps in the protocol urges doctors, surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses to work together to verify the patient information and identity, mark the site for the surgery, and to take a time out before operating to make sure everyone in the operating room knows and is in agreement as to what they will be doing.
What Other Types of Surgical Errors Exist?
There are unfortunately a vast array of other surgical errors that can result in life-altering or fatal injuries. These injuries include:
- Interal organ injury or perforation – The use of surgical tool and manipulations of organs may result in damage or perforations of internal organs when negligence occurs. Organ damage can cause serious and life-altering consequences or internal bleeding.
- Use of contaminated medical instruments – Use of non-sterilized medical implements can lead to infection and other surgical complications. This can lead to serious injury, delayed recovery, or death.
- Reuse of single-use medical instruments or implements – Many surgical implements and instruments are designed to be used in one single instance. Reuse of single-use instruments can also increase the risk of infection or error due to a tool that malfunctions or breaks.
- Anesthesia errors – Mistakes with anesthesia can create serious surgical complication or result in the wrongful death of the patient. Failures to monitor oxygen levels can result in life-altering brain injuries.
- Forgotten object left in patient’s body – A forgotten object such as a surgical tool, sponge, or gauze in the patient’s body can cause months or years of pain and discomfort. In can increase the risk of internal injuries or infection.
- Use of a defective medical implant – the implementation of a defective surgical implement can require its removal or result in serious injury or death. Defective medical implements include defective pelvic mesh, defective pacemakers, and defective hip and knee implements.
While additional potential for injury exists, the above covers many of the more common types of surgical errors where medical malpractice may have occurred.
How Long do I have to File a Surgical Error Lawsuit?
The general statute of limitations – the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit – in Pennsylvania is not unlimited. Rather, to encourage people to file a lawsuit when evidence is fresh and before the events fade from memory, a two year statute of limitations applies. This statute of limitations can, in some cases, be mitigated by the discovery rule. However, the discovery rule is an exception to the time limits set forth for medical malpractice action and does not apply in wrongful death cases. Therefore, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible if you suspect medical malpractice has occurred.
If You or Someone You Know Has Suffered an Injury or Death Resulting from Surgical Error, Our Lawyers Can Help
The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Reiff & Bily have seen surgical errors that can lead to healthy organs being removed, unhealthy or cancerous organs not being removed, wrong limbs amputated, and the need for additional surgery to correct wrong site surgical errors. We truly understand how horrific a surgical error can be, and how it can affect the rest of your life and the lives of your family and loved ones. The surgical error and experienced Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyers of Reiff & Bily stand proud as a well-known medical negligence law firm where many judges, doctors, high-ranking officials, and catastrophically injured victims have turned to when faced with devastating injuries, medical malpractice, and wrongful deaths.
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury or wrongful death due to a wrong site surgical error, contact one of the experienced medical malpractice attorneys for a confidential, no-obligation consultation so we can start fighting for you. Contact the attorneys of Reiff & Bily today by calling (215) 274-0072 or contact us online.