Abdominal Surgery, Post-Operative Complications, and Medical Malpractice

At some point in life, nearly every American will undergo surgery. Some of these surgeries will be elective, meaning surgery is scheduled in advance because it does not involve a true medical emergency. Others will be emergent where surgery is often necessary for the patient to survive. If surgery is urgent, there is a good chance it will involve the abdomen and post-operative care will be necessary.

Abdominal procedures comprise of a significant percentage of emergency procedures in which the patient dies shortly thereafter. Examples of abdominal emergency procedures include bowel resections, partial colon resections, and gallbladder removal. Complications from these surgeries can involve bleeding and infections. According to one study from the JAMA Surgery, roughly 15 percent of all patients undergoing GI tract surgery will be readmitted to the hospital within one month of surgery due to a post-operative complication. Other abdominal surgery cases will involve post-operative complications that occur before the patient every leaves the hospital and are not directly caused by the surgery itself.

Whether an abdominal surgery complication or post-operative care is due to medical malpractice or simply an accepted risk of the procedures can be a complicated question. One of the first inquiries is whether the surgery was medically indicated. Another is whether the surgery was properly performed. Even if the surgery was indicated and properly performed, the medical staff may not have properly responded to signs and symptoms of a complication such as infection or bleeding. Still other cases may involve complications related post-operative care in the hospital, meaning the complication was not directly caused by any surgical error. For example, many medical experts believe Artist, Andy Warhol’s death, was caused by preventable post-operative care when a nurse allegedly pumped way too much fluid into him after a routine gallbladder procedure.

In order to properly evaluate whether a serious complication or death from abdominal surgery was preventable, expert testimony is nearly always needed. This begins with the medical expert reviewing the relevant medical records. After completing their review, the expert and medical malpractice lawyer conduct a meeting, whether by phone or in person, to discuss the expert’s opinions. During the meeting, the expert and lawyer discuss the necessary elements of a medical malpractice practice case, namely duty, breach of the duty, causation, and damages.

In medical negligence cases, assuming the physician or other healthcare provider like a nurse owed the patient a duty of care, the lawyer and expert must determine whether a deviation from the standard of care caused the harm. In many instances, the most difficult question is causation—that is, whether deviation from the standard of care caused the patient’s injury or death. If the patient was going to die not matter what the healthcare provider would or could have done, there is generally no case. In the Warhol matter, the defense lawyers argued Warhol died from a heart attack rather than from fluid overload. This case is just one example of why medical malpractice cases are seldom simple and must be carefully evaluated on all of the elements of a medical malpractice case including causation. Even though the case may have start with an abdominal surgery, the complication that developed is not necessarily a direct result of the surgery.


By Jason M. Kroot – Kroot Law, LLC

Posted: 3-18-19


Sources Used Include:

Huffington Post, 7 Emergency Surgeries Account for Nearly 80% of Deaths and Costs, August 26, 2016


Associated Press, Warhol Lawyer: Lack of Care Killed Pop Artist, December 5, 1991