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Common Causes of Surgical Errors

Common Causes of Surgical Errors

Surgical procedures, while lifesaving, are not devoid of risks. Often, we place immense trust in the surgical team's expertise, believing that their skills will guide us safely through the operation.  

However, even the most experienced surgeons are susceptible to errors, leading to unforeseen complications and sometimes, devastating consequences. In this blog, we will discuss the common causes of surgical errors as well as common types of surgical errors that can lead to malpractice claims.  

Common Types of Surgical Errors  

Examples of surgical errors are:  

  • Incorrect procedure performed. One of the most alarming types of surgical errors is when the wrong procedure is performed. This occurs when the surgeon or surgical team misinterprets patient records or fails to confirm the planned operation, leading to a completely different surgery being carried out. 

  • Wrong-site surgery. Wrong-site surgeries are shockingly common. They are surgical procedures performed on the incorrect side or site of the patient's body. This can occur due to numerous reasons, such as miscommunication among the surgical team or misunderstanding the operating schedule. 

  • Unnecessary surgery. Unnecessary surgery is a surgical procedure that is not medically needed. This often happens when medical professionals fail to thoroughly evaluate a patient's condition, leading to an inaccurate diagnosis and an unnecessary surgical procedure. 

  • Surgical instrument left behind. Another common type of surgical error is leaving a surgical instrument or sponge inside the patient's body. This usually happens due to inaccurate surgical tool counts or distraction among the surgical team. This can lead to severe complications, including infection, organ damage, or even death.  

  • Anesthesia errors. Anesthesia errors are both common and potentially very dangerous. They can occur when an anesthesiologist administers too much or too little anesthesia, fails to monitor the patient's vital signs, or fails to recognize potential complications. Anesthesia errors can lead to prolonged unconsciousness, brain damage, or in worst-case scenarios, death. 

Why Surgical Errors Happen  

Surgical errors often transpire due to a variety of factors, many of which are preventable with the right protocols in place. Here are some of the common reasons that surgical errors occur:  


A significant contributor to surgical errors is miscommunication among the medical team. This can range from misreading handwriting on patient charts, misunderstanding verbal instructions, or even a lack of coordination during hand-offs between multiple shifts of medical teams.  


Fatigue is another critical issue. Surgeons often work long hours under intense pressure, and this physical and mental exhaustion can lead to surgical errors. Lack of sleep can:  

  • impair judgment,  

  • slow reaction times, and  

  • increase the likelihood of oversights.  

Inadequate Planning 

Inadequate preoperative planning can also lead to surgical errors. This lack of proper planning can include failing to thoroughly review a patient's medical history, not conducting necessary preoperative tests, or neglecting to prepare for potential complications during surgery.  

Systemic Problems 

Systemic problems within hospitals and clinics can contribute to surgical errors as well. These issues may include:  

  • understaffing,  

  • inadequate training,  

  • outdated equipment, and  

  • a culture that discourages staff from voicing concerns about safety issues. 

Inadequate Staffing  

Inadequate staffing is a major factor in many medical errors. When hospitals are short-staffed or have too few qualified personnel, it can lead to medical professionals taking on more than they can handle. This increases the risk of mistakes being made during surgical procedures. 


Incompetence among medical staff can also lead to surgical errors. Medical professionals must be properly trained and well-versed in the latest medical techniques in order to ensure patient safety. When a surgeon or other medical professional is not up to date on their skills, they may make mistakes during surgery that can cause serious harm. 

Drugs or Alcohol 

Another potential cause of surgical errors is the presence of drugs or alcohol. Surgeons and other medical professionals must be clear-headed to perform their duties safely. If they are under the influence, it can impair their judgment and increase the risk of mistakes being made during surgery. 

Is a Surgical Error Considered Malpractice?  

Not all surgical errors necessarily constitute medical malpractice. However, if it can be demonstrated that a surgical error occurred due to a deviation from accepted medical standards of care, it can potentially give rise to a malpractice claim.  

These standards are established by the medical community and serve as a guideline for what a competent healthcare provider should do under similar circumstances. If a surgeon or any other medical professional involved in a procedure act negligently, causing harm to a patient, they may be held liable for malpractice. 

There are several parties that could potentially be held responsible for surgical errors. Primarily, the surgeon performing the operation can be held liable if the error resulted from their negligence. Anesthesiologists can also be held liable if they administer improper doses of anesthesia or fail to monitor a patient's vital signs during surgery. 

However, liability is not confined to individuals. In some cases, the hospital or medical facility could also be held legally responsible. If a surgical error occurred due to systemic issues, such as understaffing, inadequate staff training, or outdated equipment, the organization itself could be targeted in a malpractice lawsuit.  

Hospitals can also be held liable if they employed or allowed a person, they knew to be negligent to continue completing surgeries. Legally, hospitals are responsible for the actions of their employees while they are completing their duties.  

Here to Help You Pursue Compensation in a Medical Malpractice Claim 

At the Law Offices of David Henderson, our attorney is equipped to help clients fight for their right to fair compensation. We can support you from the start to the finish of your case, acting as your compassionate, honest advocate and legal counsel.  

Call (888) 295-6566 to schedule a case consultation today.  


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