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How to Sue Over Surgery Complications

Surgical errors cause complication to patient in Washington, D.C. hospital.

When a patient undergoes surgery, a positive outcome is never guaranteed. However, if a surgery patient suffers harm due to a preventable medical error, the injured patient and/or family members may be able to sue to recover compensation for their losses through a medical malpractice claim. Such a claim must demonstrate that a surgeon failed to deliver the recognized standard of care that another surgeon of the same medical specialty would have provided under similar circumstances. This can be challenging, but it is possible when you have an experienced legal team on your side.

If you think you or a loved one of yours has suffered injury from surgical complications caused by an avoidable medical error, you should ask a qualified medical malpractice lawyer to review your case. Dr. Michael Wilson of The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson MD, JD & Associates is a physician with a medical degree from Georgetown University as well as an attorney with more than three decades of medical malpractice experience. Our medical malpractice team is uniquely qualified to assist you with a surgical error claim. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with Dr. Wilson today.

When Can You Sue For Surgery Complications?

A medical malpractice lawsuit claims that a medical professional or medical institution made a preventable error that caused a patient to be injured.

Surgery involves risk, and not every negative outcome is grounds for a malpractice lawsuit. That is important to understand. The harm must be caused by a surgeon’s failure to act as a reasonably prudent surgeon would act in a similar situation. When there is a demonstrable error, the patient’s injury and loss must be significant.

To establish that a doctor failed to exercise the degree of care and skill that another doctor would have used under similar circumstances, a medical malpractice lawsuit must demonstrate negligence on the doctor’s part. The law in Washington, D.C., and adjacent states differs a bit but, essentially, establishing negligence requires proving:

  • What the applicable standard of care is
  • How the defendant deviated from that standard, and
  • That the substandard care led to the patient suffering injury.

The medical facts of the case must show the alleged deviation from the standard of care and the patient’s injury. At trial, testimony from medical professionals would establish a standard of care that a reasonably prudent doctor would have provided under similar circumstances and compare the defendant’s course of action to that standard.

An injury lawsuit also must establish that the patient’s losses are compensable. That is, they can be made better with money paid to the plaintiff. For example, if the patient required additional hospitalization and/or additional corrective surgery, there would be a compensable injury. Medical malpractice claims also may seek compensation for pain, suffering and other “non-economic” losses.

It is best to speak to an attorney as soon as possible if you think you have been injured by a surgical error. There will be a time limit for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, which may be as short as two years in Virginia, three years in Washington., D.C., and three years in Maryland. Medical malpractice suits are complex and usually require extensive investigation. Even three years from the date of injury is a relatively short time.

Sad doctor thinking on surgery errors.

What Types of Surgical Complications Most Often Lead to Lawsuits?

Unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong in surgery if the surgeon or anyone else involved is negligent. While estimates of how often surgical errors occur vary widely, multiple studies have concluded that the most common surgical errors include:

  • Retained foreign body. Sponges, needles, clamps and other surgical tools are sometimes left by accident in the patient’s body after a procedure is concluded. The process traditionally used to track them, counting them in and then counting them out, fails too often, experts say. This error may require follow-up surgery to retrieve the foreign object.
  • Wrong-site or wrong-side surgery. In many hospitals, nurses will prep surgery patients by marking the intended surgical site on their body. Even that can fail if the ink smears or the instructions are too far from the incision site. These types of errors should never occur, but they do.
  • Wrong surgical procedure. Miscommunication somewhere along the line can also lead a surgeon to perform the wrong operation.
  • Wrong patient. This is another outcome of miscommunication and, in some cases, production pressure – scheduling multiple surgeries and either guiding doctor or patient into the wrong operating theater.

“Performing a procedure on the wrong side of a patient’s body, performing a wrong procedure, or performing the correct procedure on the wrong patient constitute some of the worst medical errors that clinicians and patients experience,” a pair of researchers state in JAMA Surgery.

These are known as never events — errors that should never occur and which indicate serious underlying safety problems at the medical institution. In one study, researchers calculated an annual rate of 4,082 surgical never events in the U.S., or 78.5 each week.

Additional surgical errors we often see are:

What Types of Compensation Could You Recover in a Surgical Error Lawsuit?

A medical malpractice lawsuit will typically demand economic and non-economic damages for the injured patient.

Economic damages reimburse you for documented monetary losses, such as for medical expenses and lost wages. We can also demand future medical costs in cases of permanent disability and future income losses due to disability or the death of a family’s breadwinner. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff would also demand funeral and burial expenses.

Non-economic damages compensate the plaintiff for such losses as pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of time with family, and more. The demand for non-economic damages is often a multiple of economic damages (tripled, for example). In some cases, the plaintiff’s former lifestyle, such as a competitive athlete no longer being able to compete because of a surgical error, might contribute to what we would demand as non-economic damages.

Some states limit non-economic damages. We would advise you about the damages potentially available from a medical malpractice claim filed in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, or another jurisdiction.

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Surgical Error Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations for a surgical error medical malpractice lawsuit is 3 years. You need to be sure to file your lawsuit before that 3 year time limit expires. If you do not file your lawsuit before that time lapses, you will have lost your chance to have that lawsuit heard in court. 

Let Our Washington, D.C., Surgical Injury Attorneys Help You

Contact The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson MD, JD & Associates as soon as possible if you think you have a surgical error malpractice claim. Developing a lawsuit requires obtaining and reviewing medical records and consulting multiple highly experienced physicians to determine the standard of care and whether they believe your surgeon failed to meet that standard.

Our background in medicine gives you an advantage at the start of a potential claim. We understand the devastating harm surgical errors can cause and have the technical knowledge to identify different types of errors. We can avoid time-wasting false starts and can argue your claim from first-hand knowledge. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you.

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