When you put yourself under the care of a physician, you expect them to act with skill and competence. If an illness or condition compels you to undergo surgery, you should have every confidence in the ability of the doctor. In addition to formal education, surgeons must go through years of intense and rigorous training before they are allowed to operate without supervision. Surgical errors nevertheless still happen. Such a mistake can leave you much worse off than you were before. It can cause you and your family great financial and emotional strain.
If you have been the victim of a surgical error, you do have legal options.
The Nature of Surgical Errors
Stories of surgical errors have been widely reported in the media. Most people have heard about surgical instruments, sponges, gauzes, and needles being left inside patients. There have even been instances in which the wrong patient has been put under the knife or the wrong surgery conducted. Even more horrifying are those cases in which the wrong limb or other body part was removed.
There is simply no excuse for such errors. They are caused by the negligence and inattention of the surgeon or their team. All the training and education in the world cannot make up for lack of focus, discipline, and diligence. Your doctor has a duty to confirm and re-confirm the status of the person they are operating on, the specifics of their condition, the efficacy of the proposed procedure, and their ability to carry out the operation. When this doesn’t happen, the risk of a surgical error increases.
Before the Surgery
You should discuss the surgery with your doctor before the surgery. Indeed, surgeons should encourage this. As a patient, you have a right to know what exactly will be done to your body. You should confirm the part of the body that will be operated on. And you should also be apprised of the risks, period of convalescence, and possible long-term effects of the surgery.
If you will undergo a surgery in which you will be conscious, you may want to use a local anaesthetic. You should discuss the various options with your surgeon. The Joint Commission has published a protocol for surgeons that requires the use of checklists to confirm the right body part will be operated on.
When a Surgery Goes Wrong
It may take some time before you realize a surgery has gone wrong. The discovery of the error may leave you shocked, outraged, and confused. These are perfectly natural responses. And as you recover from both the physical effects of the surgery and the emotional devastation caused by the news of the error, you should contact a medical malpractice lawyer.
It is important to remember that the effects of a surgical error may not be readily apparent. If in the days or weeks after the surgery your condition rapidly declines, it can be an indication that an error of some kind was made. Indeed, your lawyer will need to assess the exact nature of your condition before they can decide whether you have a case against the surgeon. During the initial consultation, the lawyer you contacted will ask you to recall the pre-surgery counselling you received and will ask to see the consent form you signed. They will also ask you specific questions about your health, including your prognosis for recovery. If things look bad, then you may have a good case against the surgeon.
Once the hospital has realized that an error has been made, they will launch an immediate investigation. They will send people to interview and gather facts from you. You should answer no questions or make any statements to hospital or insurance officials without the presence of a lawyer. Indeed, you should let your lawyer speak for you. It is important that you not make any statement that undermines or weakens your case against the surgeon whose negligence and inattention has caused you so much pain.
How a Lawyer Can Help You Get Compensation
You need not file a lawsuit straightaway against the surgeon. If there is clear evidence that an error has been made, then the insurance company may offer you a settlement figure. If the money compensates you for additional expenses incurred, wages lost, and the pain and suffering you’ve endured, your lawyer may advise you to take it. If the figure is too low and the insurance company refuses to budge, then you may have to file suit.
Surgical errors are preventable. They occur for a variety of reasons, including poor communication among the medical team, undertrained physicians, fatigue, inattention, and poor operating room conditions. Your lawyer will launch their own investigations into the surgery and the individuals involved in it. They will get to the bottom of why things went wrong. They will then use these facts to compel the insurance company to offer you a just and adequate compensation figure.