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Symptoms of Surgical Errors

surgeons operating on a patient

Surgical errors happen more often than you think. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), at least 4,000 surgical errors occur in the United States annually. What you might believe is just postoperative pain or discomfort could actually be a sign of a surgical error.

Surgical errors are preventable, making them all the more tragic. They often lead to the victims seeking justice through a medical malpractice lawsuit. Through this kind of legal action, individuals can obtain compensation for the physical damages and emotional trauma they incurred from surgical errors.

If you or a loved one has surgery scheduled, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of surgical errors. If you notice any of these symptoms after surgery, be sure to contact medical malpractice attorneys right away. Here’s a comprehensive look into surgical errors, including what they are, how to tell if they occur, why they happen, and what to do in surgical error cases.

What Is a Surgical Error?

Surgical errors are preventable mistakes that occur during and after performing surgery. They can range from small, inconsequential errors to large, life-threatening errors. Medical professionals who make surgical errors can be held liable for any resulting damages under the legal theory of medical malpractice.

A surgical procedure gone awry can cause serious pain and suffering for patients, as well as financial damages in the form of expensive medical expenses and lost income. Thus, they will need a team of medical malpractice lawyers to help them hold the responsible parties accountable and recover the compensation they need and deserve.

The worst-case scenario of a surgical error is wrongful death. In such cases, the family of victims can file a wrongful death claim as part of their medical malpractice case. With the help of surgical error attorneys, families can seek financial compensation to cover the costs of pain and suffering, and medical bills.

Warning Signs of Medical Malpractice

Surgical errors may not be immediately apparent. In some cases, it can take days or weeks for the effects of a surgical error to manifest. However, there are certain symptoms you should be on the lookout for, as they may be indicative of a surgical error. Generally, your doctor could have made surgical mistakes if the typical postoperative discomforts extend beyond the expected recovery time. Common discomforts after surgery include:

  • Nausea: Depending on the kind of surgery that you undergo, surgeons will use general anesthesia to help control your pain. This can result in postoperative nausea, which is relatively normal and goes away on its own after a few days. If your nausea persists and you find yourself vomiting frequently, this could be a sign that something is wrong.
  • Sore Throat: A similar outcome of surgery, a sore throat is common and goes away within a few days. Doctors insert tubes in the windpipe to help patients breathe during surgery. Since these are foreign objects, they can cause soreness around the throat. However, if the sore throat is severe and doesn’t subside after a few days, this case may point to medical malpractice.
  • Frequent Thirst: Patients could have lost a lot of blood during surgery, which is why it’s normal to feel thirsty afterward. However, if the feelings of dehydration after you have recovered the blood you lost remain constant, you might find yourself visiting the hospital more frequently for fluids. Later on, you could discover that surgical malpractice occurred and cite the surgeon’s negligence for not taking proper care of you after surgery.
  • Pain and Swelling: Soreness around the incision site is quite common, there could be an indication of medical malpractice if you find that the pain is severe. Pay attention to the other parts of your body after surgery too, as surgery on one area can lead to pain or discomfort in another area. For example, laparoscopic surgery on your abdomen and pelvis can cause pain in your shoulder.
  • Restlessness: Sleeplessness is a common postoperative symptom. Patients might be experiencing residual pain from the surgery or the after-effects of anesthesia. However, if you find it difficult to sleep and begin experiencing anxiety attacks, maybe an injury occurred during your operation.

If you have an operation scheduled, expect to experience at least one of these symptoms. However, there are other warning signs from surgical complications that suggest that you are a victim of surgical errors. Here’s a closer look into the most common complications that can support a medical malpractice lawsuit.


Infections at the surgical site are not uncommon. However, if the infection is severe and does not respond to antibiotics, it could mean that your surgeon made a mistake. Perhaps they used contaminated surgical tools when performing your operation or failed to properly sterilize the operating area.

If you experience a high fever, chills, or redness and swelling around the surgical site well after your operation, you should consult your surgeon for disease control immediately. Infected surgical wounds that are not timely treated can cause serious health complications, such as organ damage, sepsis, and even death.


Anesthesia can temporarily numb the nerves around the surgery site, causing partial paralysis in surrounding areas. However, if you notice that your muscles near the affected area have been abnormally weak, you might have suffered from nerve damage due to surgical malpractice.

Experiencing paralysis after major surgery for more than a few weeks can be a sign that you need further medical care. Depending on your situation, you could require another unrelated surgery or physical rehabilitation to return to your preoperative condition. Meanwhile, consider looking into the legal services of a surgical error attorney to see if you have a valid claim.

Unexplained Pain

Victims of surgical errors may experience intense pain around and even outside the surgical site. Similarly, the pain could last for weeks, months, or even years after surgery. If you’ve been prescribed medication for the pain but find that it does not seem to help, you may be a victim of surgical malpractice.

You may think that the recent operation you underwent has nothing to do with the pain you feel. However, the unexplained pain could be due to internal bleeding after the surgeon made a mistake. If the bleeding is not detected and stopped in time, it could lead to death.

Pale Skin

Internal bleeding can also cause your skin to look pale and feel cold and clammy. It is also a symptom of organ damage after surgery. Negligent surgeons could have made a wrong incision or damaged a surrounding organ, causing you to bleed internally.

If you recently went through a surgical procedure and notice paleness of skin along with other warning signs, consider seeking medical attention and legal counsel as soon as possible. With legal representation, you could receive financial compensation for your damages and get the closure you need.

High Fever

Finally, a high fever is another symptom of internal infections after surgery due to a surgical error. After your operation, be sure to monitor your temperature for the first few days. If your fever does not go down even after taking the prescribed medication, it is essential to consult your surgeon for further evaluation.

If the problem persists, you may be looking at a surgical error case. Consulting with a surgical error attorney could help you understand your legal ability and options. They can also determine if you have a case against the surgeon or hospital.

Common Surgical Errors

There are many different types of surgical errors that medical experts can commit due to multiple reasons. The following are common surgical errors.

Wrong Surgery

Sometimes, a doctor fails to check the patient’s chart or medical records before surgery and operates on the wrong body part. Other times, the doctor or surgical team confuses two patients with similar names or medical histories and operates on the wrong patient.

Similarly, a medical professional may perform unnecessary surgery on a healthy patient. Some reasons why surgeons commit this surgical error include finding ways to increase medical expenses or to cover up a previous surgical mistake.

This evidence of surgical negligence can have devastating consequences on the patient’s body. If you discover that you or a loved one had surgery on the wrong body part, you may qualify for a personal injury case.

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is a powerful drug meant to keep patients out of pain as doctors treat serious injuries. However, poor administration can lead to side effects, putting the patient’s life in danger. Perhaps the medical professionals failed to properly monitor the patient’s anesthesia levels during their surgery.

One example of a surgical complication due to anesthesia errors is anesthesia awareness. This condition occurs when the patient is conscious during surgery but is unable to move or communicate. Being awake during a surgical procedure may cause emotional trauma for the patient.

Based on a 2020 analysis of the National Westlaw Database looking into medical malpractice lawsuits involving anesthesiology residents, the annual rate of paid malpractice claims that anesthesiologists experience is 11.7 per 1000 physicians-years. Approximately 10% of these paid malpractice claims reach over one million dollars.

Foreign Objects

Negligent medical experts can accidentally leave foreign objects in the patient’s body. Sometimes, a medical procedure takes so long that the surgeon might leave a sponge, cloth, or even surgical instrument inside the patient.

Leaving a foreign object in the patient’s body can cause serious infections and other life-threatening complications. One famous case involving this kind of surgical error happened in Fresno, CA.

In 2016, ABC13 reported about a California hospital getting fined $86,000 for a surgical error lawsuit. This case involved a surgery patient having a towel in their stomach. Based on the report, the medical staff kept track of all their equipment but not the towels, putting the patient’s life in danger.

Incision Accidents

Careless medical staff might label the wrong body part meant for surgery, causing surgeons to end up making incisions in the wrong spot. Other times, surgeons might accidentally cut through major arteries or nerves while performing surgery.

The consequences of this surgical error can be very dangerous. For example, if a surgeon cuts an artery, the patient may die from excessive blood loss. Even minor cuts in the wrong places can be devastating.

Accidental incisions can also affect organs through cutting or tearing, ending up in organ damage. If you end up with a serious injury that you suspect occurred because of your recent surgical procedure, be sure to consult with medical malpractice lawyers to assess your case.

Unsterilized Tools

Any injury victim undergoing surgery is vulnerable to infection, especially if their procedure requires opening the body. One way that patients can develop an infection is when the surgeons and surgical assistants use dirty or contaminated equipment.

Medical facilities must have standard operating procedures in place to ensure that all surgical tools are properly sterilized. If the staff does not follow these safety protocols, they endanger their patients.

If you or a loved one who recently went to surgery notice any signs of infection, you may be a victim of this surgical error. Get in touch with surgical error attorneys to determine whether you suffered injuries because of a surgeon’s negligence with their tools.

Why Do Surgical Errors Occur?

Human error is the primary cause of medical malpractice. Some surgeons make mistakes by using the wrong technique when performing the necessary surgery. Others might have lapses in judgment and administer the wrong amount of medicine. Regardless of their form, these errors are completely preventable.

Although surgeons and medical staff are still people — making them prone to human error — they are still professionals who have a responsibility to deliver excellent medical care to patients. Failing to meet what is expected of them can constitute surgical negligence, allowing victims of the errors to recover compensation. Here’s a closer look at surgical error causes.

Poor Communication

One of the most common causes of surgical errors is miscommunication between the medical team. These professionals are already in a complicated industry, surrounded by complex terms that look foreign to generalists, so it can be easy to make mistakes when delivering information to the next team member.

For instance, a surgical assistant could have misheard given directions, prompting them to perform the wrong action. Alternatively, a surgeon may have illegible handwriting, causing the next person to make a serious mistake when deciphering the instructions. These professionals are expected to communicate efficiently amongst themselves when it comes to performing surgeries. Otherwise, they could find themselves in a legal battle over miscommunication.

Bad Planning

Following poor communication, surgeons might enter the operating room unprepared for the scheduled surgery. Perhaps they failed to arrange the necessary equipment in the correct order, or they could have mixed up the tools with another operation. Inadequate preparations increase the chances of surgical errors because it heightens the potential for human error.

Surgeons must plan everything out before surgery to avoid making a mistake during the procedure. Accordingly, all tools must have been properly sterilized to avoid serious injury, all operating room professionals are in their places and ready to use the tools, and the surgical site is prepped for the scheduled operation.

Incompetent Surgeons

Hospitals facing medical malpractice lawsuits tend to involve incompetent surgeons. These are the professionals who do not have the skills or knowledge to operate. Unfortunately, some of them get surgery positions despite their lack of experience. As a result, patients might find themselves under the knife of an inexperienced surgeon.

Since these practitioners often lack adequate medical training and hands-on experience in the required practice areas, they are more likely to commit surgical negligence. Medical malpractice attorneys looking into the probability of medical malpractice lawsuits may seek the certification marks of the involved surgeons.

Worker Fatigue

Many doctors and surgeons are overworked. They often have to stay up late into the night and come in early the next morning. Just like any regular person, the lack of sleep can take a toll on their well-being, leaving them feeling exhausted during surgery. In addition, some surgical procedures are not even scheduled, like when a catastrophic injury comes through the ER after a car accident. Thus, the surgeons might have to go into surgery right away without any time to recover from their last operation.

Fatigue can lead to human error and cause professionals to make careless mistakes. For instance, a surgeon could make an incision in the wrong place or fail to notice when a patient starts to bleed out. While it is not an excuse for surgical negligence, it is a possible explanation for why the surgery error occurred in the first place.

Drugs and Alcohol

Some surgeons can be irresponsible citizens and might come into surgery under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These practitioners may have developed dependencies on substances as a response to their fatigue, or perhaps they have personal issues they are struggling with. Nonetheless, being intoxicated on the job is never an acceptable excuse for surgery errors.

Intoxicated surgeons might not be able to focus on the surgery or properly follow given instructions. As a result, they could make careless mistakes that cause serious injury or death to the patient. If it is determined that the surgeon was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then they could face criminal charges in addition to a medical malpractice indictment.

What To Do When I Have a Surgical Error

Once you discover that you are living with a surgery error, your first action should be to contact a medical malpractice attorney. Understandably, you may feel like the healthcare professional you trusted with your life betrayed you since you are now dealing with physical, emotional, and financial stress. Our legal professionals represent clients during these challenging times and will help you determine if you should pursue a surgery error claim.

If it is deemed that your surgery error was due to surgical negligence, then you could be eligible for compensation. This could include medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. Be sure to get an experienced medical malpractice lawyer like us to oversee your case. With our help, you have better chances of getting the surgery error settlement you deserve.

Get a Free Consultation From a Surgery Error Attorney in NYC

If you or a loved one has been the victim of surgery error, it is important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. At the Pagan Law Firm, our team of medical malpractice lawyers will investigate your surgery to determine if you have a case. 

If we find that the surgery error was due to surgical negligence, then we will help you file a claim and get the surgery error compensation you deserve. Leave the legal work to us while you focus on recovering from your injuries. Connect with our team of NYC surgical error attorneys for a free initial consultation today.