What Is a Surgical Error?

Undergoing surgery is not an easy decision to make. Then, when the time comes for the procedure, you trust that the team in charge of the operation will do their best to help you feel better. 

Most of the time, surgeries successfully treat injuries and illnesses. However, complications from surgical mistakes can also happen. A study showed that at least 4,000 surgical errors occur in the U.S. every year and that they comprise the majority of hospital malpractice claims. Unfortunately, mistakes in the operating room do more than cause physical injury or even death to the patient. The consequences can also be life changing the patient’s family. 

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a surgical mistake and are interested in pursuing legal action, it helps to understand what surgical errors are. This article also shares the common types of surgical errors and the next steps you can take with a Chicago surgical error lawyer to seek the compensation you deserve. 

What Is a Surgical Error?

All surgical procedures come with risks. This is why patients or their legal guardians are asked to sign a consent form, as this can be used as evidence that they agreed to the operation and understood the risks of certain unavoidable complications. However, surgical errors are not related to these known, unavoidable risks. 

A surgical error is a mistake that occurs due to avoidable reasons such as: 

  • Improper Technique or Care: Errors can happen when surgeons make mistakes when using improper techniques, when the team fails to recognize anatomical landmarks, and/or when other surgical team members fail to do their job such as carefully monitoring the patient’s vitals throughout the procedure. 
  • Incompetence or Lack of Knowledge: When surgeons do not have the necessary training and experience to perform a specific procedure, they are more likely to make mistakes that result in complications. 
  • Insufficient Preoperative Planning: Surgeons and surgical team members must thoroughly review the patient’s medical history and current condition and prepare the necessary equipment to avoid complications.  
  • Fatigue: While maximum work hours are set to ensure patient safety, many surgeons are often overworked and unable to take enough breaks between their shifts. This makes them more likely to make mistakes.   
  • Drugs or Alcohol: While it may seem absurd that a surgeon would enter an operating room while under the influence, this can happen and it endangers patients’ lives.

Common Types of Surgical Errors 

Mistakes in surgical procedures can happen in various ways, bringing consequences ranging from reversible to life-changing injuries and even the loss of life. While every case is unique, here are the most common types of surgical errors that affect patients and their loved ones: 

Foreign Objects Left in a Patient 

Foreign objects like a scalpel, clamp, gauze, or surgical sponges can get left behind in a patient after surgery. This happens when surgeons fail to check the surgical cavity thoroughly, and the staff fails to track or count the instruments used and retrieved. 

This mistake can cause pain and discomfort for the patient, but it can also lead to life-threatening infections and require additional operations to remove the foreign object. In the worst cases, it can even result in death. 

Operating on the Wrong Patient

Whatever procedure you need, you trust that you are being led to the right room and put in the hands of professionals who know the operation you need. 

Unfortunately, when medical records get mixed up or miscommunications among the staff arise, patients can receive the wrong surgery. When the mix-up isn’t caught early, unsuspecting patients can experience life-threatening complications from a procedure they didn’t need or even have their healthy organs removed.  

Operating on the Wrong Site or Body Part

This is another error that commonly happens when surgeons, nurses, and other staff fail to ensure the surgery occurs at the correct site or part of the body. 

Such mistakes can result in unnecessary incisions, the amputation of the wrong limb, or removing or replacing the wrong organ – all of which can lead to life-changing and dangerous complications.

Wrong Procedure

Performing a different procedure than intended can be especially harmful to patients. They not only have to deal with the harm done to their body by the wrong procedure but also have to continuously suffer from their condition that was not treated due to the mistake. A similar error is performing a surgery that is not indicated by the patient’s presenting condition. 

Anesthesia Errors 

Administering too much anesthesia can lead to complications such as lack of oxygen, permanent damage, and even death. On the other hand, administering too little anesthesia can result in the patient regaining consciousness during surgery. Still another error is failing to carefully monitor the patient’s vital signs which can signal something is wrong and require immediate intervention. 

Failing to obtain a patient’s complete medical history can also cause allergic reactions and drug interactions that can endanger their life while on the table. 

Complications from Surgical Mistakes

No matter the cause, surgical mistakes can cause the following life-altering and even life-threatening complications for the patient: 

Nerve Damage 

Partial paralysis can result from nerve damage caused by a surgical mistake. In some cases, patients must undergo further surgeries and rehabilitation programs to regain mobility. 

Organ Damage 

Using the wrong surgical tool or technique can damage internal organs. This complication can be life-threatening and are likely to be repaired with additional procedures. 

Internal Bleeding 

Risks of bleeding are not uncommon in surgeries, but a reckless or negligent surgeon can cause unnecessary internal bleeding. When this happens after a procedure is done, it may go undetected and lead to severe complications. 


The overuse of anesthesia, for example, can lead to a lack of oxygen during surgery and permanent brain damage. 


Operating on the wrong site or the wrong patient can result in an unnecessary amputation – a life-changing and traumatic consequence that could have been avoided. Improper surgical technique can also result in avoidable disfigurement. 


Severe surgical errors have also caused or contributed to deaths in many patients. 

What To Do When a Surgical Error Occurs

If you or a loved one was harmed from a preventable complication during a surgical procedure, consider consulting a Chicago surgical error lawyer as soon as possible. They have the expertise and know-how to investigate your case and gather the evidence needed to support your claim. 

The Importance of Working With a Chicago Surgical Error Lawyer

In general, surgical errors and medical negligence are among the most complicated types of personal injury cases. Trying to pursue legal action without the help of medical malpractice attorneys, especially when you are still recovering, may not give you the results you want and need. 

On the other hand, an experienced surgical error attorney knows about standard surgical procedures and errors from handling similar cases in the past. They also consult with other medical professionals to determine if an injury or death was caused by a preventable mistake. In addition, medical malpractice attorneys can gather evidence and file your case within the statute of limitations in Illinois to preserve your opportunity to fight for your rights. 

Most importantly, your surgical error attorney will advocate for you – even if it means standing up against insurance companies and large corporations behind hospitals.  

Let a Competent Surgical Error Attorney Fight for You While You Recover

Surgical mistakes often cause severe, life-changing complications. As such, you deserve to be compensated for your current and future medical expenses, not to mention the pain and suffering you’ve experienced from the error.

However, pursuing legal action for these medical malpractice cases can be complex. To increase your chances of receiving a favorable outcome, it’s best to work with a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer – a professional with experience handling surgical error claims in the state’s court system. 

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a surgical mistake, Kroot Law is a top law office ready to take your side. We have successfully represented plaintiffs in serious medical malpractice cases in Illinois for over two decades, and we will be happy to do the same for you.  

Contact us today for a free consultation and case evaluation with Chicago medical malpractice lawyer Jason M. Kroot.