errors that occur during surgery

Errors That Occur During Surgery

According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, more than 4,000 preventable mistakes occur during surgery every year. Errors during surgery range from patient identification problems to procedure errors and infections.

The study, published in Surgery, found that these surgical errors cost more than $1.3 billion in medical malpractice payouts. These mistakes cause temporary injury in 59 percent of cases, death in 6.6 percent of cases, and permanent injury in the remaining 33 percent.

Some of the most common surgical errors include:

  • Administering too much or too little anesthesia
  • Making an incision in the wrong part of the body
  • Injuring a nerve during surgery
  • Leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside a patient (e.g. sponges or instruments)
  • Operating on the wrong patient
  • Operating on the wrong body part

Surgical errors are preventable mistakes that go beyond the risks of surgery itself. Patients are required to give informed consent before surgery, but surgical errors are unexpected and uncalled for.

Some of the most troubling surgery mistakes are patient identification errors. Hospitals generally follow a system of patient identification to ensure the right patient undergoes the correct treatment. Identification systems typically require two forms of patient identifiers when performing surgery, administering medication, or collecting samples.

Researchers labeled certain mistakes “never events” because they constitute errors that have no explainable basis—like leaving a sponge inside a patient’s body or performing the wrong procedure on a certain patient—as opposed to complications during difficult operations. Approximately 4,044 “never events” occur every single year in the U.S.

Researchers estimate that every week, surgeons:

  • Leave a foreign object inside a patient’s body after surgery 39 times
  • Perform the wrong procedure 20 times
  • Operate on the wrong body site 20 times

Hospitals are required to report “never events” that result in settlements or judgments, but many surgical errors go unnoticed for a while. Sometimes they only become apparent after a patient suffers from post-surgery complications and medical personnel try to find out why.

Patients between the ages of 40 and 49 are most at risk for surgical mistakes. Interestingly enough, surgeons in the same age range are most likely to commit surgical errors; the study offered no evidence that surgeons at the beginning or end of their careers tend to make more mistakes. Two-thirds of surgeons involved in errors have been named in more than one malpractice incident in the past, and more than 10 percent were involved in multiple surgical “never events.”

There are a variety of reasons for surgical errors, and some can be grounds for medical malpractice suits. Surgical errors can be a result of incompetence, poor communication during the operation, insufficient planning prior to surgery, fatigue, drug or alcohol impairment, or neglect.


If you believe you or a loved one suffered from complications due to surgical errors, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi can help investigate your claim and determine whether or not you have grounds for a lawsuit.