Most Common Types of Surgical Errors

Most Common Types of Surgical Errors

by / Friday, 08 March 2019 / Published in Medical Malpractice
Surgical instruments on tray as gloved hand reaches for a tool

All surgical procedures come with the risk of mistakes. Even if you’re going in for a relatively simple, routine procedure, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. When people see doctors, they trust that the doctor will use their expertise to help them feel better, not worse. But doctors are human and, therefore, are prone to making mistakes.

When we talk about medical malpractice, it’s important to understand that there’s more than one kind of medical malpractice. Surgical errors are just one kind of medical malpractice and even those can be broken down further into several different categories. These are a few of the most common types of surgical errors:

Wrong-Site Surgery

Unless proper precautions are taken, it’s very easy for doctors to make mistakes about where exactly the procedure needs to take place. When you go into have surgery, you will likely be asked repeatedly to explain what procedure you are going to have and where it needs to take place. You may even be asked to sign the place on your body where the operation needs to take place. This may seem very redundant, but it’s actually a good thing because these are practices are used to prevent wrong-site surgery. Examples of wrong-site surgery can include things like having surgery performed on the left shoulder when it was supposed to be performed on the right shoulder or having a healthy kidney removed instead of an unhealthy one.


According to a 2017 study by the Loyola University Health System, surgical site infections affect 300,000 patients every year in the United States. Surgical site infections can occur in many different ways and not all of them occur during surgery, but they can be caused by things like unsanitary surgical instruments or a caregiver touching the site with contaminated hands.

Nerve/Organ Damage

When doctors are operating on one part of a body, they may be working very closely to nerves and other organs. Nerves and organs are extremely delicate and even a momentary mistake when using surgical tools can cause serious damage to nerves and organs in the surgical area.

Wrong Patient Surgery

By far, one of the most shocking types of surgical errors occur when doctors perform surgeries on the wrong patient. Just as patients should repeatedly be asked to state which procedure they are supposed to have and where the surgery should take place, they should also repeatedly be asked to state their name. Wrong patient surgery can be absolutely devastating for the patient and when it happens, it’s very often the result of poor communication between hospital staff or staff failing to follow established protocols.

Instruments Left Behind

Performing surgery can involve a lot of different tools, like scalpels, clamps, needles, and sponges. While many hospitals require surgical tools be counted before and after a procedure, but not all hospitals do. According to the John Hopkins Institute, surgical tools are left inside of patients 39 times per week in the United States. When surgical tools are left behind in a patient after surgery, it can lead to serious pain or infections.

Errors like wrong site and wrong patient surgery are referred to as “never events” because they are so egregious that they should never happen. But they do happen and when they do, it’s very important to speak to a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. The effects of surgical errors can be devastating and medical malpractice cases can be complex. A lawyer will be able to answer all of your questions and help you figure out which steps to take next. The Law Offices of Goodwin & Scieszka has attorneys who are experienced in working with the victims of medical malpractice. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.