How Common are Surgical Errors?

Atlanta-based tech start-up StartBox is aiming to eliminate human error in surgery. The product is a technology-supported process that helps surgeons and medical staff avoid errors with recorded planning sessions, color coded tools, and other cues to protect against mix-ups and oversights.

If you don’t work in the medical, insurance, or legal industry, you may be surprised to hear that human error in the operating room is a common enough problem to found a business on. But, the issue is a serious one. One long-term review revealed that medical malpractice carriers had paid settlements or verdicts based on surgical errors about 10,000 times across a 20-year period. These claims include mistakes such as:

  • Closing up the patient with an object, such as a towel, sponge, or piece of surgical equipment, inside
  • Performing the wrong procedure on a patient
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Operating on the wrong side of the body

The incidents in the study resulted in about $1.3 billion dollars in damage awards. But, it’s worth noting that these totals include only those cases in which the malpractice carrier paid out a settlement or verdict to the injured patient. Any patients who may have suffered surgical errors but lost their cases, dropped out of negotiations, died without a representative picking up the claim, or simply opted not to pursue compensation are not included.

Researchers estimated that more than 4,000 surgical “never events” take place in the United States each year. But, they acknowledge that reporting is incomplete, and the number is likely higher.

Organizations in the United States and around the world, as well as private ventures like StartBox, are striving to create procedures and checks that will dramatically reduce surgical errors. Most experts agree that processes that force surgeons, surgical nurses, anesthesiologists and others involved in the surgical process to slow down and consciously check details can go a long way toward eliminating errors. And, Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance companies have instituted policies denying payment for erroneous procedures and the costs created by them. But, the problem won’t be eliminated overnight.

As the profession, watchdog organizations and governmental entities work to improve safety in the surgical process, you can take steps to make your own surgery or a loved one’s surgical procedure safer.

Steps to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Surgical Errors

First and foremost, make sure to work with a surgeon and a facility you trust. If you have any concerns about the information you are receiving, the physician, or the hospital or surgical center, research further or seek out a second opinion.

If you’re scheduling surgery on a non-emergency basis, take time to research hospitals and surgeons in advance. If possible, have someone with you when you speak with the surgeon prior to the procedure, particularly if you are seriously ill, medicated, anxious, or for some other reason not confident in your ability to advocate for yourself.

Post-surgery, don’t assume that odd symptoms or continuing pain is normal. While pain and other symptoms may be a natural part of the recovery process, they can also be an indication of an infection, bleeding, or some other complication associated with your surgery. Again, be prepared to advocate for yourself, and to seek a second opinion if necessary. Remember that if an error has occurred, the surgeon who performed the procedure and others in the same facility may have an incentive to downplay the issue.

Pursuing Compensation for a Surgical Injury

When surgical errors happen, you may be entitled to compensation. However, pursuing a medical malpractice claim is a bit more complicated than a personal injury claim. That’s because Georgia law creates obstacles for people who have been injured by negligent healthcare providers.

Some of the differences include:

  • The statute of limitations can be complicated, as the date the time begins to run isn’t always clear, and certain types of events have separate statutes of limitations. For example, while the general statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is two years, the statute of limitations for claims relating to objects left in the body is one year from the date of discovery.
  • Unlike most other types of negligence claims, filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit must include an affidavit from a member of the profession setting forth how the medical professional violated the standards of the profession.
  • Georgia law also caps non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering.

A layperson may not be able to reliably determine how long he or she has to file a medical malpractice claim. And, most people don’t know how to secure an expert to complete the required affidavit. So, it’s in your best interest to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as you are aware of the problem.

Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of medical malpractice. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.

The Balams Firm

Our Office
310 Maxwell Road, Suite 500
Alpharetta, GA 30009

Map / Directions

ReShea Balams

ReShea Balams is an award winning attorney and the founder of The Balams Firm.  Prior to answering her true calling to represent families impacted by life-changes tragedies, ReShea gained invaluable experience and insight as an attorney for large insurance companies.  She is known for her record of exceptional results on behalf of clients, and is a zealous advocate for injury victims.

  • American Association for Justice
  • Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
  • Atlanta Bar Association
  • Gate City Bar Association
  • The National Crime Victim Bar Association
  • State Bar of Georgia
  • The National Trial Lawyers - Top 40 Under 40
Learn More