Surgical errors are a type of medical malpractice that involve healthcare provider’s negligence and misconduct during a surgical procedure. Surgical errors can cause devastating long-term consequences – including death.

Examples of Surgical Errors:

  • Leaving surgical instruments in patients
  • Anesthesia errors – including failing to check for allergies and oxygen failures
  • Puncturing, severing, or otherwise affecting surrounding nerves, muscles, and ligaments
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Cutting the wrong location
  • Operating on the wrong body part or organ
  • Use of unsanitary surgical instruments causing an infection
  • Failure to prevent or fix complications that occur during surgery
  • Failure to properly monitor patient for issues such as infection or internal bleeding after surgery

Complications from surgical errors can cause:

  • Nerve damage
  • Organ damage
  • Internal bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Disfigurement
  • Disability
  • Death

A surgical error occuring does not necessarily mean that the healthcare provider is liable for medical malpractice because all surgeries involve an element of risk. Medical malpractice lawsuits are long and complex. There are a series of elements that must be proven to demonstrate that medical malpractice occurred.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

The surgical error in question needs to fall below the medical standard of care and it must be proven that the substandard treatment caused harm. The medical standard of care is: “The type and level of care an ordinary, prudent, health care professional, with the same training and experience, would provide under similar circumstances in the same community.”

There are four elements to medical malpractice lawsuits:

  1. A doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the surgical error
  2. The healthcare provider’s action breached the standard of care
  3. The breach was the direct and proximate cause of the patient’s injury
  4. The injury resulted in harm to the patient

Potential Causes of Surgical Errors

Surgical errors can occur for a variety of reasons including:

  • Incompetence
  • Insufficient planning
  • Fatigue
  • Drugs or alcohol
  • Miscommunication
  • Unsanitary conditions


Incompetence can cause surgical error if the healthcare providers have inadequate skills or training.

Insufficient Planning

Insufficient planning can cause surgical errors if healthcare professionals have not adequately prepared for the procedure by reviewing the patient’s records, making sure that all necessary surgical instruments are sterile and available for use, and that all equipment is ready and working properly.


Fatigue can be a cause of surgical error if the healthcare providers are overworked or exhausted for the procedure.

Drugs or Alcohol

Drugs or alcohol can cause surgical error if the healthcare provider(s) are under the influence.


Miscommunication between medical professionals is a common cause of surgical errors and can occur through illegible handwriting, mishearing or misunderstanding directions.

Unsanitary Conditions

Failure to have the surgical room and instruments sterilized can cause serious, life-threatening infections.

How GoldenbergLaw Can Help You

If you or a loved one suffered harm after a surgical error, contact the Medical Malpractice Attorneys at GoldenbergLaw today! We have over 35 years of experience handling complex medical malpractice cases, and you can leave the sleepless nights to us.