After analyzing all of its malpractice claims closed between 2014 and 2018, Coverys found that a quarter were due to surgical errors. This makes surgical errors the second-leading cause of malpractice claims, behind diagnosis-related errors (32%). New Jersey residents should know that Coverys dealt with a total of 2,579 surgery-related malpractice claims in that five-year period.

Of these, 78% had to do with practitioner performance during the operation itself. In some claims, it was a matter of a lack of technical skill; in others, there was an alleged failure in clinical judgment and/or communication. Then, there were cases involving a foreign body left in the patient’s body (7%), an unnecessary procedure (4%) and harmful delays in surgery (3%).

The most affected field of surgery was general surgery, accounting for 22% of claims. This was followed by orthopedic surgery (17%) and neurosurgery (8%). Out of all the surgery-related claims, 29% had a patient who had suffered permanent significant injuries. Patients had died in 9% of the claims.

To prevent surgical errors, physicians should first of all involve patients more in the decision-making process and carefully document the informed consent discussion. During surgery, there should be no distractions, no music and no visitors. Conversations should be kept to a minimum.

If doctors or nurses do not live up to a generally accepted standard of care, and if this failure leads to an error and an injury, then victims may have a case under medical malpractice law. Pursuing a case can be difficult, so victims are advised to see a lawyer before the statute of limitations runs out. The lawyer may request an inquiry with the local medical board and even have third parties make their own investigation before proceeding to the settlement negotiation stage.