New Jersey residents probably don’t need to be told that things can go wrong during surgery. What they may not know is just how frequently surgical errors lead to malpractice claims and for what reasons. The medical liability insurer Coverys analyzed all of its malpractice claims that were closed between 2014 and 2018 and found that surgical errors came in just behind diagnostic errors as the second most common cause of claims.

Twenty-five percent of claims were surgery-related. This came to a total of 2,579 claims. Diagnostic errors were behind 32% of claims. Nearly half of the surgery-related claims fell under three surgical fields: general surgery (22%), orthopedic surgery (17%) and neurosurgery (8%).

Seventy-eight percent of surgery claims were related to practitioner performance. In 39% of claims, there was mention of a lack of technical skill contributing to the error, and 27% cited a failure in clinical judgment and/or communication. Some claims involved foreign bodies being left in patients’ bodies (7%), unnecessary procedures (4%) and surgeries done on the wrong patient, site or side (3%).

Patients incurred significant and permanent injuries according to 29% of the claims, and 9% of claims involved patient death. Doctors can prevent errors, though, by creating a distraction-free OR and having patients participate more in the pre-surgical decision-making.

Those who intend to file a medical malpractice claim after a surgical error may want a lawyer to evaluate their case. The statute of limitations in this state is two years from the date of injury or from the time the patient should have been able to realize the injury. With a lawyer, the filing process may go much more smoothly. The lawyer may negotiate on victims’ behalf for a settlement covering past and future medical bills, lost wages and more.