In medical malpractice law, we describe many types of negligence as “never events.” These are examples of negligence by doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and other healthcare providers so easily prevented with reasonable attention and professionalism that they should never occur. Nevertheless, they do sometimes happen in Milwaukee-area hospitals and clinics.
Often, the victim of a never event experiences life-threatening injuries. If they survive, the patient may be permanently disabled, be forced to live with chronic pain, or both. Their quality of life and ability to provide for their family may be dramatically affected.
Surgery and ‘never events’
Surgical errors are some of the most dangerous never events possible. The most common surgical errors include wrong-site surgery, in which the surgical team operates on the wrong body part, and accidentally leaving foreign objects in the body, usually surgical tools like sponges. Though most hospitals in the U.S. have procedures in place to try to avoid surgical errors, they still happen, with deadly or life-changing consequences for patients and their loved ones.
New findings on surgical errors
The Joint Commission, an organization that accredits U.S. healthcare organizations, recently released its findings on surgical errors for the first half of 2019. It received 436 reports of “sentinel event” errors for that time period. The Joint Commission defines sentinel events as those requiring immediate investigation and attention — in other words, the most serious errors possible. Patients may have died as a result, or else required intensive revision surgery to undo the damage the negligent surgical team caused.
Of the 436 sentinel events from January through June 2019, there were 60 incidents of unintended foreign objects left in a patient’s body, and 29 cases where surgeons operated on the wrong body part. The organization noted that wrong-site surgery continues to be a big problem, with 105 reported incidents in 2018 and 104 in 2017.
Why damages for surgical errors can be high
Because surgical error is such a destructive form of medical malpractice, these cases often lead to some of the largest medical malpractice trial verdicts and settlements. Patients generally require extensive medical care to regain their health and quality of life, and many never fully recover. They may never earn an income again, and could require round-the-clock care.