California Surgical Errors Attorney
Los Angeles surgical mistake lawyers representing clients throughout the state
Every surgical procedure involves varying degrees of risk. It is possible for a surgery to have an unfavorable outcome which does not involve negligence or error. However, if the adverse outcome to the surgery was caused by negligence, the injured patient may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Surgical mistakes can cause life-altering injuries or even death. If your surgeon caused you harm because he or she was fatigued, intoxicated, or otherwise impaired, or was inattentive for any reason and erred during surgery causing you harm, you could be entitled to damages for your injuries.
The experienced California medical malpractice lawyers from Heimberg Barr LLP are prepared to uphold your right to pursue fair compensation when you have been injured because of medical negligence. The firm has secured millions of dollars on behalf of clients, including a record-breaking $68 million surgical malpractice verdict on behalf a client who sustained permanent brain damage after his surgeon left the patient in the operating room before he completed the heart surgery leaving the physician’s assistant to complete the procedure.
The California medical malpractice lawyers at Heimberg Barr LLP have unique insights to medical negligence claims. Dr. Steven Heimberg, J.D. and Marsha Barr-Fernandez, J.D. have decades of experience representing victims of medical malpractice. With decades of experience, the firm is always striving to facilitate the best possible outcome given the facts of your case. The firm helps clients who have sustained catastrophic medical malpractice injuries recover the compensation they need and deserve, securing millions of dollars for clients:
- $68 million surgical malpractice verdict for a client left permanently brain damaged after a heart surgery. This verdict was more than 3 times any other medical malpractice verdict in California history and the largest personal injury verdict ever in Fresno County.
- $8.125 million settlement during trial for a 71-year old man left quadriplegic due to negligent spinal surgery
- $4.275 million surgical malpractice settlement for negligent extubation after knee surgery that caused permanent brain damage
What is a surgical error?
The Institute of Medicine Report (IOM) defines a medical error as “the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim.” A surgical error is a specific type of medical error which occurs during surgery. An operating room is where incredibly precise, potentially lifesaving procedures take place. Because some surgeons perform the same procedure dozens, or even hundreds of times, repetition or complacency can set in, leading to distraction and inattention.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) describes certain catastrophic surgical errors as “never events,” because they should never occur. When these events do occur, the AHRQ suggests that it indicated other serious underlying safety problems.
While they are called never events because they should never happen, these serious medical errors and safety incidents occur at startling rates. The AHRQ reports on the frequency of never events:
- About 4,000 surgical never events occur each year in the U.S.
- The average hospital will experience a wrong-site surgery case once every 5-10 years.
- The majority of never events reported to the Joint Commission (71 percent) between 1995 and 2015 were fatal.
Causes of surgical injuries
Given the complexity of the surgical environment, there are many factors which might lead to surgical mistakes, including:
- Communication breakdowns between physician, nurse or another medical professional (such as an intraoperative neuromonitoring technician)
- Fatigue from long working hours
- Failure to properly identify the patient or do the indicated operation
- Healthcare provider substance abuse issues
- Inadequate experience
- Physicians operating outside the scope of their expertise
- Surgeons failing to remain in the operating room and/or hospital to monitor patients
- Overlapping/Concurrent Surgeries
- Inappropriate personnel performing the surgery
- Missing warning signs because of inattention or inadequate monitoring
- Technical failures
Physician inattention as a cause of surgical errors
The inattention of surgeons during surgery can lead to life-altering and deadly errors, such as:
- Wrong or unnecessary surgical procedure. A patient in the hospital for one surgical procedure, but due to inattention there is a mix up, and the wrong surgical procedure is performed. Not only does this mean the correct procedure is delayed, it also puts the patient at unnecessary risk for operative and post-operative complications.
- Leaving surgical tools inside the patient. This can cause pain, infection, and other debilitating health problems until the item is discovered. It also necessitates additional surgeries to remove the items, and of course can result in the same problems as other surgical errors ranging from infections to paralysis.
Intentionally improper surgeries
Intentionally improper surgeries include:
- Ghost surgery – Patient consents to surgery by one doctor or surgeon and a different, doctor or surgeon, generally one less trained or experienced, performs all or critical components of the surgery and causes harm
- Surgery beyond one’s scope
- Surgery by insufficiently trained professional
Overlapping and concurrent surgery
Overlapping and concurrent surgery means a single surgeon has two or more patients in operating rooms at the same time. A position statement issued by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), as well as the main neurosurgical societies (the AANS, Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS), American Board of Neurological Surgeons (ABNS) and the Society of Neurological Surgeons (SNS)), defining concurrent and overlapping surgery. “Overlapping surgery” was defined as the practice of the primary surgeon initiating and participating in another operation when he or she has completed the critical portions of the first procedure and is no longer an essential participant in the final phase of the first operation. In contrast, “concurrent surgery” was defined as surgical procedures when the critical or key components of the procedures for which the primary attending surgeon is responsible are occurring all or in part at the same time.
Overlapping surgery is essentially a training mechanism for surgical residents. It allows residents to perform part of the operation in the absence of the attending surgeon. A JAMA article likewise defines concurrent surgery as one in which the attending surgeon is not present during a part of the operation considered critical.
Most patients likely assume that when they go into surgery and are on the operating table under anesthesia, that the surgeon is attending to them only and performing the procedure from start to finish. However, in some hospitals, the practice of overlapping surgery is common, and all the parties involved with the surgeries are aware of the practice – except the patients.
The JAMA article also reported that the Senate Committee on Finance, which oversees Medicare, found many hospitals’ overlapping surgery policies inadequate. The report endorsed the idea that surgical departments, rather than the surgeons, should decide which parts of a procedure would be the critical parts, and the committee also recommended that patients be informed about what overlapping surgery entails and that the patient must affirmatively consent to it.
Catastrophic injuries resulting from surgical errors
While many injuries sustained during surgery are serious, some rise to the level of catastrophic. A catastrophic injury is one that is life-altering, often leading to a need for life-long care. Some examples of catastrophic injuries caused by surgical errors include:
- Brain death or severe brain injury often from oxygen deprivation
- Paralysis, brain damage or coma from anesthesia errors
- Paralysis from injury to the spinal cord
- Serious damage to any affected organ
Lawsuits for surgical errors
When a surgical error occurs, it could be the fault of the surgeon who is conducting the operation, the anesthesiologist, or another medical professional in the operating room. Your Los Angeles medical malpractice attorney must determine who is at fault in causing your injury and who can be held liable for your injuries and damages. To prevail in a medical malpractice claim in California, there are several elements which the plaintiff must be able to prove including:
- A duty to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as other members of the profession commonly possess and exercise
- A breach of the duty
- A proximate causal connection between the negligent conduct and the injury
The injuries from the surgical mistake must have also caused damages such as additional medical expenses, lost time from work, additional pain and suffering, and emotional distress from the injury.
(CACI No. 500. Medical Negligence—Essential Factual Elements)
Hiring the right Los Angeles surgical error attorney
If you or someone you care about has been injured because of a surgical mistake, the experienced L.A. medical malpractice attorneys at Heimberg Barr LLP will investigate the incident and determine who is at fault in causing your injury. Working with an experienced Los Angeles medical malpractice lawyer may be the difference between getting the help you need, and struggling for the rest of your life. With more than five decades of combined legal experience, Partners Dr. Steven Heimberg and Marsha Barr-Fernandez handle complex surgical error claims with ease. The firm investigates all aspects of your case and engages with medical experts. The attorneys are adept at explaining complex legal and medical issues to juries in a way that is easy to understand.
Voted #1 Medical Malpractice firm in America by The National Law Journal, Heimberg Barr LLP was also recognized as Top Tier in the field of Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice by Best Lawyers and US News and World Reports. Dr. Steven Heimberg is a physician and as an advocate for the victims of medical malpractice, he has been named Los Angeles Trial Lawyer of the Year for which he was nominated 9 times, Lawyer of the Year in 2017 by Best Lawyers and The Wall Street Journal, and is perennially named a Super Lawyer by the Law Angeles Magazine Partner Marsh Barr-Fernandez has dedicated her career to helping injury victims. The attorneys are uniquely equipped to recognize and understand the complicated nature of the evidence associated with medical procedures and conditions. Ms. Barr-Fernandez has been named Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine nine times and Top 100 California Trial Lawyers for four consecutive years.
Los Angeles surgical malpractice lawyers on your side
Surgical injuries can be devastating and life-altering. If you or a loved one is suffering from injuries caused by a surgical mistake, contact Heimberg Barr LLP at (213) 213-1500 or complete the contact form to schedule a free consultation and find out how the best medical malpractice law firm in America can help you. The firm represents clients throughout California.