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Surgical Errors & Surgical Injury

According to a medical analysis published by John’s Hopkins Medicine, more than 4,000 surgical errors occur every year in the United States.  These events, described as “totally preventable,” are referred to by the federal government as “Never Events,” meaning that they should never happen.

However, it has been estimated that surgeons in the U.S. perform the wrong surgery on the wrong patient and leave a retained object in the patient over 20 times a week. These mistakes during many routine operations are often very serious, causing permanent injury in almost a third of cases, and death in almost 7 percent of cases.

Surgical mistakes contribute to other medical errors, which account for more than 251,000 deaths in America each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that would make medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States, underscoring the need for hospitals to make patient safety a priority.

Joe Lyon is a highly-rated hospital negligence and medical malpractice attorney with experience in injuries due to surgical errors.

Mr. Lyon has represented plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of medical negligence, wrongful death and injury claims. Together we can make a difference in your life and the lives of others by making medicine safer. For a no-cost consultation, call Joe Lyon.

Common Surgical Errors

Despite the awareness of the frequency of the surgical errors, it has been estimated that surgeons perform the wrong surgery on the wrong patient or leave a retained object in the patient regularly. Unnecessary operations may also be an area of concern.

Though surgery is always thought of as totally necessary, that may not be the case in some hospitals, when medical professionals go through some procedures without a proper cause.

Other types of surgery errors are not as apparent, but the injuries caused by surgical errors are apparent and often require significant compensation to take into account the medical expenses, loss of time, loss of organs, lost wages, and future medical care.

With medical care costs increasing every day, it is imperative that the negligent parties causing the injuries take responsibility for the harms (physical and economic) that they cause.

After an analysis of national malpractice claims, Johns Hopkins researchers identified several types of surgical errors, many of them causing permanent disability or death.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 60 percent of surgical errors are due to operating on the wrong side of the patient. In extreme cases, the wrong limb has been amputated. Other common errors include:

  • Anesthesia error: Anesthesiology Malpractice can be very dangerous, and may result in death if an anesthesiologist is negligent in administering drugs properly during an operation.
  • Foreign object left inside the patient: towels, sponges, staples, and other medical materials can be left inside a patient, which can cause infection or perforate tissue and organs.
  • Wrong patient surgery: Hospitals may not properly account for patients, and while this sounds like it would be an extreme rarity, wrong patient surgery does occur on occasion.
  • Wrong Site Surgery Lawsuits: Many patients enter an operating room expecting to undergo surgery on their left side, and the medical staff performs the procedure on the right side.
  • Unnecessary surgery: Doctors and surgeons have become very comfortable with performing surgery, and may do so even when it isn’t necessary.
  • Laboratory Malpractice: Hospital Labs may not send the correct test results to a patient, or may mix up samples.
  • Performing Wrong Procedure: When a team of staff at hospitals fails to follow guidelines to prevent Never Events, they may perform a wrong procedure, when a different surgery is needed.
  • Failure to communicate test results with the patient: Patient Rights may be ignored in some cases, and can result in Medical Malpractice lawsuits.
  • Failure to provide informed consent
  • Angioplasty Errors
  • Failure to recognize a complication during surgery: Surgeons have a duty to not only perform an operation, but also to mitigate risks and recognize issues as they arise in the operating room.
  • Using Wrong Medical Instruments
  • Surgery Malpractice: Performing a surgery in a careless or unsanitary manner

Surgical Errors & Patient Injury

Surgeons and other medical professionals in the operating room have established procedures, checklists and instrument counts to track surgical items like sponges and other materials used during an invasive medical procedure. Nevertheless, these procedures are not always followed and sometimes fail to be effective, leading to surgery errors and serious patient injuries.

Surgery Error can cause pain, readmission, additional surgeries, abscesses, intestinal fistulas, obstructions, visceral perforations and death. The risk of retention of instruments increases with body mass index of patients.

Surgery errors in hospitals include improper or inadequate protocols that lead to equipment like sponges, towels, needles, instruments, retractors and other small items and fragments of tools in patients.

The most common causes of these incidents are lack of policy and procedures, a failure to comply with existing procedures, failures in communication, hierarchy issues within hospitals and poor staff education and training. The risks involving surgery errors is greater when medical professionals engage in the following negligent behavior:

  1. Ignore set procedures & guidelines: Instrument counts should mark the start and finish of medical procedures. Electronic tracking systems are even available to help keep track of sponges and other items but some medical facilities elect not to use this helpful technology.
  2. Deviating from procedures: Hasty decisions made because of surgery complications can lead to surgery errors and retained instruments. Retained instruments are four times more likely when the procedure changes unexpectedly.
  3. Poor Communication between colleagues: All hospital personnel should properly trained in procedure and communication practices. During procedures, teams of technicians and nurses may rotate in and out of surgery, requiring solid practices.

In many instances, an error in judgment by an operating medical staff can cause permanent issues. There are a number of unfortunate cases in which patients have had perfectly functioning organs removed or damaged. Wrong patient surgery, while not as common as wrong site surgery, has also been known to occur.

A patient is subjected to an unneeded surgery, along with all the complications that accompany surgery, and may have lasting negative consequences. Severe complications can include the following:

•    Nerve damage
•    Stroke or heart attack
•    Revision surgery
•    Post-surgical infection—often due to unsanitary surgical instruments
•    Long-term tissue and organ damage

Surgical Safety Mishaps & Medical Mistakes

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons concludes: “Serious communication breakdowns occur across the continuum of care, typically result from a failure in verbal communication between a surgical attending and another caregiver, and often involve ambiguity about responsibilities.”

At most medical centers, patient safety procedures like surgical checklists have long been in place to prevent never events, but these efforts are still vulnerable to human error. The mistakes continue to mount, putting more pressure on medical facilities to improve systems and serve the public responsibly.

Traditionally, nurses keep track of sponges by counting them before and after an operation. But sponges can be hard to locate when they are soaked in blood and tucked away in the abdomen, pelvis, thoracic cavity and vagina. Sponges can be lost during emergency surgeries, when there is little time to thoroughly count instruments.

Doctors rely on protocols like counting equipment, but methods are subject to human error. More standardized counting systems involving all members of the team—surgeons, nurses, techs, anesthesiologists, and radiologists—recommend two people count out all equipment and have it verified by a surgeon.

Such systems reduce surgery errors but some Ohio hospitals do not have the same procedure in place. A study found a 93 percent drop in the number of retained sponges at five hospitals that used radiofrequency technology.

Hospitals have begun utilizing X-rays and bar codes to help detect lost material, and radiofrequency detection systems are the most effective way of tracking sponges. Each piece of gauze has a tiny chip sewn into a pocket and personnel can use a wand at the end of a procedure to detect sponge location. The FDA has also warned about an increase in surgical stapler accidents.

Preventing Common Surgical Errors

Most hospitals have patient safety procedures in place to prevent the types of surgical errors described above. However, the mistakes continue.  In addition to providing compensation to the patients, medical malpractice cases focused on surgical errors in hospitals improve patient safety by forcing hospitals to recognize the gaps in their system and make changes to prevent others from suffering the same surgical errors.

Some common sense recommendations have been offered to prevent wrong site surgeries and retained foreign objects. They include:

Wrong Site Surgery

It seems almost impossible in theory, and yet it is common: a surgeon enters an operating room and is not alone. There are multiple staff present, and yet nobody realizes they are performing surgery on the wrong side of a patient. This is totally inexcusable, and hospitals recommend the following:

  • Requiring automation for surgery scheduling
  • Ensuring the site mark is always visible
  • Not rushing through pre-op
  • Making the “time out” process active and robust
  • Educating Schedulers

Retained Foreign Objects

Retained foreign object incidents are relatively common in the medical industry, representing almost half of Never Events in the operating room. That is why hospitals have adopted protocols to account for every surgical item before and after an operation. Still, these surgery errors happen, and serious infection is likely when towels or sponges are left inside a patient. Medical experts have urged physicians and other staff to adhere to the following:

  • No multitasking in operating room
  • Minimizing distractions
  • Address requests before beginning the counts

Surgical Error Lawsuits

With medical care costs increasing, it is imperative for negligent parties causing serious surgical injuries to take responsibility for the damage inflicted. When taking into account medical expenses, lost wages, and future medical care, injuries caused by surgery errors often require significant compensation. Fortunately, courts have been sympathetic to the victims. Malpractice judgments and claims over the last 20 years due to surgical errors total over $1.3 billion.

In addition to providing compensation to the patients, holding medical professionals legally responsible will force hospitals to improve patient safety. Medical facilities must recognize the gaps in their system and make changes to prevent others from suffering the same medical mistakes.

Medical Malpractice Settlements

Settlements out of court are likely to follow gross medical negligence. Hospitals and their insurance companies do not want litigation to drag on as legal costs mount. In other cases, hospitals will fail to address plaintiffs’ claims and insurance companies will refuse to pay for the injuries their clients have sustained. It is essential in most cases to hire a Surgical Error attorney to work through this tough time.

Also,  good deal of medical mishaps result in a hospital or healthcare provider attempting to remedy the situation themselves, and sometimes in an underhanded way. Hospitals may try to contact an injured patient, and offer to fix their own mistakes, but only if they sign an agreement not to sue the doctor and hospital.

Do Not make any deal with a hospital until you speak with a Medical Malpractice Attorney.

Surgeons and medical professionals have a legal duty to provide a decent standard of care to their patients. An act like leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient’s body is a gross medical error that should never occur. As a result, victims of such surgery error are eligible to be compensated for medical costs, pain and suffering, and lost income during their recovery period.

During an investigation, a medical malpractice lawyer and surgical error attorney may identify a surgeon, doctor, nurse and other medical professional, hospital or clinic as responsible for a surgery error injury.


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Joseph Lyon has 17 years of experience representing individuals in complex litigation matters. He has represented individuals in every state against many of the largest companies in the world.

The Firm focuses on single-event civil cases and class actions involving corporate neglect & fraud, toxic exposure, product defects & recalls, medical malpractice, and invasion of privacy.


The Firm offers contingency fees, advancing all costs of the litigation, and accepting the full financial risk, allowing our clients full access to the legal system while reducing the financial stress while they focus on their healthcare and financial needs.

photo of attorney Joe Lyon
A Voice for Those who have suffered

Why are these cases important?

 When management or individuals fail to provide a sufficient level of care, victims may seek legal recourse and file suit against the negligent parties. Medical malpractice lawsuits improve the quality of healthcare by holding physicians and hospitals responsible when they fall below a professional standard of care. 


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Questions about Medical Malpractice

What is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Hospitals, medical staff, nurses and doctors are responsible for providing proper patient care. When management or individuals fail to provide a sufficient level of care, victims may seek legal recourse and file suit against the negligent parties.

Without medical malpractice laws, medical mistakes would go without consequence, patients would be uncompensated for preventable injuries, and medical providers would have less incentive to improve the medical system to prevent future injuries.

Despite the reports discussed above, frivolous claims brought by medical malpractice attorneys and runaway juries have been blamed as causing a medical crisis. There is no medical malpractice crisis, it is simply propaganda created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and large insurance companies to pollute the American jury pool and change the law in a manner that is favorable to them and adverse to the average American. And sadly, it has worked.

Currently, 90 percent of juries side with the physician over the patient at trial. As a result, insurance companies are bolder than ever and refuse at times to settle even the most meritorious of cases knowing that the chances of the patient finding a fair and impartial jury is extremely low, especially in more conservative parties of the country such as Hamilton County, Ohio.

What is a “Never Event” in Hospital Care ?

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 required that conditions be identified that (a) are costly and occur at high rates, (b) are assigned as cases to the Diagnosis-Related Group, and (c) could have ultimately been prevented with appropriate care. These hospital-acquired conditions occur as negligence on the part of hospital staff and often result in a multitude of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Conditions that meet the three requirements for identification:

What if a hospital makes me an offer directly?

Many hospitals and physicians are taking proactive approaches to resolve viable medical malpractice claims by approaching patients who do not have legal counsel. The “family meeting” presentation will include deterring patients from seeking legal counsel. This is a very concerning development in the course of medical liability and risk management.

We strongly advise patients not to engage in “family meeting” settlement negotiations without an experienced Cincinnati medical malpractice lawyer present. Hospitals and physicians have lawyers who are specialized in medical malpractice claims advising them on how to approach the case, and it is only fair that the patient is afforded the same benefit of qualified counsel.

The “family meeting” practice of settling hospital negligence cases without an attorney does not benefit the patient in most cases, but almost always benefits the negligent hospital.

Do not be deterred by a hospital representative implying that the case will be compromised if you seek counsel. While attorney fees will need to be paid, those costs should not be a deterrent. The Lyon Firm adopts a lower contingency fee structure and offers hourly rates for cases that can be resolved without litigation.

If the parties wish to resolve the matter, having qualified counsel on both sides is beneficial to the process. The goal should be a settlement where both parties are satisfied, not a case where the hospital pays substantially less than the fair value of the claim.

There are numerous issues that need to be considered before settling a medical malpractice case, and you should know what the fair value of the claim is before accepting a settlement.

The hospital knows the fair value having been involved in other cases. You as the patient should work with counsel who has successfully worked on other cases and can advise on the appropriate risk of future litigation and settlement value.

If a hospital is approaching you or a family member about a settlement without a Cincinnati Medical Malpractice lawyer, please call (800) 513-2403 for a free consultation.

Why hire the Lyon Firm?

Our Firm will help you find the answers.  The Firm has the experience, resources and dedication to take on difficult and emotional cases and help our clients obtain the justice for the wrong they have suffered. 

 Experience:  Joe Lyon is an experienced Cincinnati Medical Malpractice Lawyer. The Lyon Firm has 17 years of experience and success representing individuals and plaintiffs in all fifty states, and in a variety of complex civil litigation matters. Medical malpractice lawsuits can be complex and require industry experts to determine the root cause of an accident or injury. Mr. Lyon has worked with experts nationwide to assist individuals understand why an injury occurred and what can be done to improve their lives in the future. Some cases may go to a jury trial, though many others can be settled out of court.

Resources/Dedication: Mr. Lyon has worked with experts in the fields of accident reconstruction, biomechanics, epidemiology, metallurgy, pharmacology, toxicology, human factors, workplace safety, life care planning, economics, and virtually every medical discipline in successfully representing Plaintiffs across numerous areas of law. The Lyon Firm is dedicated to building the strongest cases possible for clients and their critical interests.

Results:  Mr. Lyon has obtained numerous seven and six figure results in personal injury,  automotive product liability, medical Negligence, construction accidents, and auto dealership negligence cases.  The cases have involved successfully litigating against some of  the largest companies in the world

Learn About the Medical Malpractice Legal Process

Video: Investigating Medical Malpractice

The process for investigating a medical malpractice claims involves the following steps: 

  1. Gather a full and informed history from the family addressing their concerns and thoughts on what went wrong; 
  2. Gather the complete medical records including film studies, if any; 
  3. Review of the records and applicable medical literature by attorneys; 
  4. Review of the records by a qualified physician practicing in the relevant areas on standard of care and causation; 
  5. Final consultation with expert to review opinions;
  6. Signing of Affidavit of Merit by the Expert before case filing, for cases where medical malpractice is identified. 

Our Victories

The Lyon Firm aggressively, professionally, and passionately advocates for injured individuals and families against companies due to a defective product or recalled product to obtain just compensation under the law. 



(Cincinnati, Ohio):  Confidential settlement for a family due to a wrongful death. An emergency room physician failed to recognize the common symptoms associated with bowel obstruction and prescribed a contraindicated medicine of GoLytley.  The patient died at home the day of discharge after taking the medication. The case against the emergency room physician was resolved by settlement following extensive discovery. The settlement was paid to the spouse and surviving adult children for the loss of their mother. While no amount of money could bring back their mother, the case provided answers and held the hospital accountable.


$910,000 Settlement.

(Cincinnati, Ohio):   Joe Lyon was second chair in a case involving the failure of a physician to promptly communicate a positive breast cancer result to a patient. As a result of the delay, the cancer progressed from in situ carcinoma to stage 3B with lymph node involvement. The treatment required mastectomy and radiation/ chemotherapy rather than a simple excision. The case settled after extensive discovery. The defense argued: “the patient should have called the physician.” The settlement provided recovery for suffering through a misdiagnosis and the loss of a spouse and a mother. While the settlement cannot bring this wonderful woman back, it helped her family move forward with life’s challenges and encouraged  future accountability.