Gastric bypass surgery is sometimes the best option for individuals at a severely unhealthy weight that have been unable to lose weight through more conventional treatments. While many gastric bypass operations are successful, some can result in severe complications due to medical malpractice. If these problems happen to you or a loved one, you can file a surgical malpractice lawsuit and may receive compensation.
While gastric bypass surgery is a risky procedure, sometimes complications are the fault of a negligent surgeon or other medical professional. However, proving negligence can be very complex because there are many moving parts of a medical malpractice case. If you are planning to pursue such a case, you need to first understand your legal options.
The Pagan Law Firm has put together this article to serve as your guide to filing a medical malpractice claim for a bypass surgery gone awry. In this article, we will discuss the following:
- What is gastric bypass surgery?
- Who is qualified to get bypass surgery?
- Why is bypass surgery a risky surgery that leads to many medical malpractice lawsuits?
- What complications can arise from the surgeon’s negligence?
- What are the signs of complications?
- How can a lawyer help if you believe you have a medical malpractice claim?
- And more
Keep reading to get an in-depth understanding of a surgical malpractice lawsuit and what you can do to seek compensation for yourself or your loved one.
What Is Gastric Bypass Surgery?
Losing weight is not easy, and some people have a much harder time than others. No matter what diet they try, what restrictions they follow, and what exercise routines they complete, some individuals just can’t shed the excess weight that may be causing other health problems. Medical intervention is one of the last resorts to give these people an opportunity to lose weight and get healthier.
One of the most well-known surgical interventions for weight loss is gastric bypass surgery, a type of bariatric surgery. During a gastric bypass operation, the surgeon modifies your stomach in order to reroute where the food passes. Your stomach is divided into two small pouches, with the smaller one becoming the place where you store food as it’s digested. Then, the surgeon will connect the jejunum, a section of the small intestine, to a hole in the smaller pouch.
Thanks to this new configuration, your stomach is able to take in less food. You’d also feel much fuller after just a few bites. After the surgery, you’ll eat less because you feel full quicker and longer, usually leading to impressive weight loss.
Qualifications a Person Must Meet to Have the Surgery
Not everyone should undergo gastric bypass surgery as a means to lose or control weight. The operation is a complex and risky procedure that may lead to complications. While the surgery can be reversed, the process is as dangerous as the bypass surgery – if not more so. For these reasons, the procedure is only performed as a last resort for those who have tried and failed other weight loss strategies.
Here are some requirements you must satisfy before you’re qualified to receive gastric bypass surgery.
- BMI of 40 or Higher: Your body mass index (BMI) is a measurement showing your weight-to-height ratio. If you have a BMI of 40 and above, you fall under the “morbidly obese” classification. Having this high BMI puts you at an increased risk of developing issues like diabetes, heart disease, circulation problems, and even some cancers.
- BMI of 35 or higher and at least one related health problem: Gastric bypass surgery can be given to those with a BMI of 35 to 39.9, provided that they have other weight-related issues. These diseases or disorders include:
- High blood pressure/hypertension
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Why Gastric Bypass Is a Risky Surgery Leading to Many Medical Malpractice Claims
While gastric bypass surgery is effective for weight loss, it’s considered a last resort because of the many complications associated with it. It’s an invasive procedure that requires extreme precision and accuracy for success. A laparoscopic procedure is less invasive, but it still involves the same steps as open surgery, albeit with smaller holes in the body.
During the gastric bypass surgery, the surgeon will cut your stomach into two pouches and staple the open ends to close them. Your intestine will also be stapled where it’s attached to your stomach. Attaching and stapling tissue is a complex process, and even small errors can lead to infections, leaks, and other problems.
Remember that the stomach is filled with highly acidic gastric juices. Surgical errors could result in these liquids seeping into other organ systems and wreaking havoc. In addition, the incision sites are vulnerable to bacteria, especially with the gut being filled with both good and bad microbes. These microorganisms can cause an infection, which then results in a host of other problems, like sepsis.
The wound site may also refuse to heal or close, leading to internal bleeding or hemorrhaging. Rapid blood loss is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately to avoid endangering a person’s life.
What Acts of Negligence During Gastric Bypass Surgery Can Lead to a Valid Medical Malpractice Claim?
Gastric bypass surgery is inherently risky and can result in complications, even if the surgeon performed the correct procedure. However, medical professionals are not infallible, and they can make mistakes that lead to surgery complications. Here are some acts of negligence that may result in complications and injuries to a patient.
Surgical errors can occur because of a wide range of factors, from lack of proper pre-operative planning to sheer incompetence. Regardless of the reason, a surgical error is a form of medical malpractice that can result in life-threatening injuries.
One of the most serious surgical errors is wrong-site surgery, which is when the surgeon performs the procedure on the incorrect part of the body. In gastric bypass, wrong-site surgery can mean the surgery was performed on the wrong area of the digestive tract.
Injuring or severing a nerve during the operation is also a common surgical error in gastric bypass. When nerve damage occurs, some involuntary movements may stop altogether.
Perforating the intestines or stomach lining is a known occurrence during gastric bypass surgery as well. Having a hole in your digestive tract can result in the leakage we mentioned above.
All these problems can make for a strong surgical error lawsuit, but some are harder to prove because of the technical knowledge that’s needed to understand the error.
Leaving Surgical Instruments Inside the Patient’s Body
Retained surgical instruments (RSIs) are tools and paraphernalia that surgeons leave inside the body. This event can happen because of various reasons, including poor management systems, surgeon fatigue, and inaccurate instrument counts.
RSIs are dangerous. Sponges and gauzes left in the body could accumulate bacteria and cause infections. Scalpels and other sharp instruments can cause perforations in organs. Having surgical instruments left in the body is one of the strongest reasons why you should file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Unlike with other surgical errors, RSIs serve as immediate proof that your surgeons were negligent and you have grounds for a surgical error lawsuit.
Wrong Patient Surgery
Gastric bypass surgery is just one of the many types of bariatric or weight loss surgeries available today. Other types include gastric sleeve and gastric balloon surgeries. While rare, there are some cases when surgeons perform the wrong type of surgery on a patient thinking they were a different patient.
Wrong patient surgery happens in practices, clinics, and hospitals with poor patient management systems.
If you undergo the wrong procedure, the issues may not be apparent at first. Over time, you may start seeing changes in your body that aren’t what you expected from a gastric bypass surgery. Eventually, incorrect surgery can result in dangerous or life-threatening complications.
Incorrect Surgical Process
Whether it’s an open surgery or a laparoscopic operation, gastric bypass operations follow a process set to ensure patient safety and wellness. These steps begin long before the operation itself, such as the pre-operative consultation. Not following the standard surgical procedure is considered medical malpractice.
One example of this error is a doctor failing to thoroughly complete the first round of physical examinations for a gastric bypass candidate. Unknown to the patient and surgeon, the patient might have an underlying condition that leads to severe complications post-surgery. This issue could be avoided if the medical professionals follow the correct surgical process in detail before, during, and after the actual surgery.
Medication or Anesthesia Errors
During surgery, doctors can inject an array of drugs into the body to keep it stable, such as IV fluids and antibiotics. One of the most important drugs is anesthesia. There’s even a dedicated anesthesiologist during surgery whose sole role is to deliver anesthesia to your body and ensure your safety through constant monitoring and supervision.
Any medication or anesthesia errors can result in various problems during and after the operation. Patients can experience nerve damage, lack of oxygen to the brain, and arrhythmia or quick heartbeat. Incorrect dosages of medication can also cause other severe issues that leave a patient injured.
Failure to Monitor Vitals After Surgery
After gastric bypass surgery, monitoring vitals becomes essential. This practice allows doctors to detect any dangerous physiological changes a patient may experience, which could indicate complications stemming from the surgery. Since the period immediately after the operation is critical, failure to properly monitor vitals is considered medical malpractice because it puts the patient’s life in danger.
Failure to Diagnose or Misdiagnosis of Post-Surgery Complications
Even though post-surgery vitals may seem normal immediately after the gastric bypass operation, the complications may still occur, emerging only after a few days or weeks. While some issues are normal and to be expected after the operation, other concerns are legitimate and life-threatening. Some doctors may dismiss these complications as small matters, but a competent medical professional would do a more thorough evaluation and provide the necessary treatment for their patients.
If any of the above situations have happened to you or a loved one, seeking legal help is essential. Contact The Pagan Law Firm today and get expert advice, guidance, and representation for your case.
Common Complications Due to Negligence
When surgical errors occur or a failed surgery happens due to a negligent surgeon or other medical professional, the following complications can happen.
Surgeries involve incisions where bacteria can enter and infections are common complications. In gastric bypass surgery, infections can start in the wound site. Pockets of fluid can also form, which may result in an abscess.
A prudent surgeon will prescribe the right kind of antibiotics to avoid infections. If they don’t, the infection can worsen into a deadly condition called sepsis. Failure to correctly treat infections makes a surgeon liable for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Anastomosis is the medical term for the connection made between the new stomach pouch and the intestine. During failed surgeries, the anastomosis refuses to heal and leaks gastric juices into the stomach. When anastomotic leakage occurs, the organs are exposed to highly acidic fluids, causing wounds that may result in infection, organ failure, and even sepsis. The long-term damage includes scarring and ulcers.
A competent doctor should be able to prevent anastomotic leaks. If a leak does happen, your surgeon should be able to diagnose it correctly and provide the necessary treatment.
During the operation, tissue, fat deposits, and collagen can enter the bloodstream and form clots. Damage to the veins during the operation can also result in narrow pathways that encourage blood clotting. These clots can travel from the surgery site to critical areas like the brain and heart. If the clots are big enough, they can block the passage of blood and cause heart attacks and strokes.
These severe complications are preventable mistakes if the doctor follows the correct procedure and prescribes the appropriate blood thinning medications.
Hemorrhaging or internal bleeding is another severe, yet relatively rare issue stemming from surgical complications. Incorrect incisions, stitches falling apart, and even excessive blood thinning medication can cause hemorrhages. These factors are all due to the surgeons’ negligence or incompetence so you can sue them for medical malpractice if they occur after your gastric bypass surgery.
Internal bleeding is highly dangerous and it can be hard to detect since the issue is not apparent at first. Left untreated, this complication can cause infections, excessive blood loss, and even death.
Adverse Reactions to Anesthesia
Some people are allergic to certain types of anesthesia medications. Before the surgery, your doctor must determine if you have any allergies to the available anesthesia options. The anesthesiologist assigned to the operating room must also be competent and trained for the procedure. If they don’t follow the correct procedures, you may experience adverse reactions to anesthetics that can result in bodily injury. When you suffer these injuries, you can sue a doctor for medical malpractice.
A surgery gone awry can result in a small bowel obstruction (SBO). This complication can happen due to various factors. One example of this is adhesion, or when two surfaces connect even though they were once separate.
An SBO is one of the most common complications after a gastric bypass, and it can be lethal if left untreated. If food and waste matter can’t pass through the digestive tract, infections, abdominal pain, or organ damage can occur.
Internal hernias happen when organs protrude through the abdominal walls. While these issues might be natural complications after a gastric bypass operation, they may happen because of surgical errors. If the surgeon performing the operation failed to strengthen incisions that result in the hernia, then you can sue them for medical malpractice.
Warning Signs That Medical Malpractice Has Occurred
How do you know if you have a medical malpractice claim? Several indicators are showing that a doctor failed to follow standards of care before, during, and after the surgery, leading to your or a loved one’s injury. Here are some of these signs:
- Incomplete pre-operation process: If the doctor only asked for simple tests before the surgery and didn’t check for any underlying conditions, they failed to follow standards of care. They may also be liable if they failed to provide adequate information about your surgery to help you understand the process. This failure is a violation of the informed consent process.
- Untreated or misdiagnosed complications: As we’ve mentioned above, complications are not unusual after gastric bypass surgery. However, you may face severe health problems due to avoidable complications that resulted from surgical errors.
- The treatment isn’t working: Gastric bypass surgery usually provides immediate results, such as lowered blood sugar levels, rapid weight loss, and decreased cholesterol levels, even just a few months after the procedure. If you don’t experience these benefits, then there might be an issue with the treatment you received.
- No postoperative follow-up visits: Monitoring your condition and assessing your progress are essential post-surgery steps. Any doctor or medical facility that fails to follow up with you is liable for medical malpractice. Even if they monitored your complications, but failed to provide immediate treatment that led to even more issues, you can still sue them for compensation.
How a Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help If You Believe You Have a Case
To get compensation for injuries resulting from a surgery gone awry, you need to prove medical malpractice. It is often not easy, as proving surgical error, misconduct, or incompetence is a complex undertaking. You will need to gather evidence and prove that your injuries are a direct result of negligence in order to have a successful medical malpractice claim. It’s a highly technical process and you need medical malpractice attorneys that can:
- Help you prove the four essential elements of a medical malpractice claim: duty, breach of duty, injury, and causation.
- Gather evidence to present in the court of law.
- Serve as your legal representation during the trial.
- Find expert witnesses that can provide technical knowledge about gastric bypass surgery and the complications you experienced.
The goal of winning a personal injury case is to get financial compensation for the injuries you suffered. Medical malpractice attorneys like those at The Pagan Law Firm can help an injured patient receive compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Mental anguish and emotional suffering
- Temporary or permanent disability
- Ongoing treatment and therapy
- Wrongful death
- And more
Contact The Pagan Law Firm for Your Medical Malpractice Claim
A gastric bypass procedure is meant to give you a new opportunity in life, helping you control your weight and avoid health issues resulting from a high BMI. However, surgical malpractice can turn a life-saving procedure into a life-threatening problem. If you believe that you suffered injuries because of surgical malpractice, The Pagan Law Firm is here to help.
Our firm works on personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits and has more than 30 years of experience. We’ll work closely by your side, serving as your counsel and legal representative as you fight to get the justice you deserve.
Ready to file your medical malpractice claim? Contact us online or call us at 212-967-8202 to schedule a free consultation.