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When Surgeons Don’t Make the (right) Cut

Surgeons are responsible for hundreds of thousands of surgical errors in the United States each year. These errors include improper sterilization, leaving sponges and other surgical tools inside the patient, and conducting wrong-site surgeries. These errors can cause significant pain and injury, lead to permanent disability, or cause premature death.

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Surgeons Behaving Badly

A 2012 study showed that drug and alcohol abuse are significant problems within the surgical community. It is estimated that up to 14% of male surgeons and 25% of female surgeons regularly abuse alcohol or drugs. Surgeons under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of surgery are incapable of properly reviewing a patient’s medical charts, adhering to procedures, or advising other members of the medical team.

Surgeons who have alcohol or drug dependency problems are 45% more likely to admit having made a serious surgical error or caused a wrongful death in the previous three months.  

Asleep at the Scalpel

Surgeon fatigue is a significant problem within hospitals across the country. Early and late surgery times coupled with long hours in the hospital increase the risks of errors. The American College of Surgeons has conducted studies that show surgeon fatigue has a significantly detrimental effect on patient outcomes. In one study, research showed that the risk of medical error increased 22% when a surgeon was fatigued. Fatigue impairs decision-making ability, decreases surgical vigilance, and prolongs reaction time. In the surgical theater, these factors can lead to errors that can cost a patient their life.

Common Surgical Errors

There are a number of surgical errors that a negligent, drunk, or sleepy surgeon can cause. The three most common “never events” medical malpractice lawyers see with regular frequency include:

  • Wrong Site Surgery. These occur in approximately 1 in every 100,000 surgical procedures. With over 48 million inpatient procedures alone performed in the US each year, this amounts to roughly 480 wrong site surgeries.
  • “Lost Objects.” Surgeons or members of the surgical team often leave objects within the body cavity. These include sponges, scalpels, tweezers, etc. These events occur in approximately 1 in every 10,000 procedures; or roughly 4,800 events per year.
  • Surgical Fires. Surgical fires occur either through the use of faulty equipment or through misuse of the equipment. Between 550-600 surgical fires occur each year. These surgical fires can cause serious injury, permanent disfigurement, or death.


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$2,300,000 – Brain Injury
$650,000 – Motor Vehicle Accident
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$570,000 – Medical Malpractice

$4,300,000 – Medical Malpractice
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$950,000 – Birth Injury Malpractice
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$4,000,000 – Medical Malpractice

$3,000,000 – Vehicle Accident
$950,000 – Birth Injury Malpractice
$7,500,000 – Premises Liability

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