Learn about your right to compensation if you were injured in a wrong-site surgery
Doctors in Tampa, Florida, and other areas are held to the highest standards to deliver quality care when treating patients. However, they, too, are human, which means mistakes can happen. When those mistakes involve something as serious as a wrong-site surgery, it can have devastating results for patients.
This article will provide an overview of wrong-site surgeries and explain how to prove negligence and recover compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
What is a wrong-site surgery?
A wrong-site surgery occurs when a doctor performs surgery on a patient on the wrong side or part of their body. This often leads to the patient suffering harm and needing additional surgeries to address the affected area.
Wrong-site surgery is the direct result of negligence and medical malpractice. When a patient endures such an experience, they can be left with a slew of problems, such as disfigurement, physical and mental pain, disability, and even infertility in some situations.
How common are wrong-site surgeries?
Fortunately, wrong-site surgeries are relatively rare, but that doesn’t make them any less devastating. According to one study, around 1 out of every 112,000 surgical procedures involves surgery performed on the wrong side of a patient’s body, meaning that, on average, a hospital would only have such an incident about once every 5 to 10 years.
How do wrong-site surgeries typically happen?
While multiple layers of checks and protocols are supposed to be in place to prevent such wrong-site surgeries, they can still occur due to a variety of factors, which include the following:
- Communication breakdowns. Miscommunication among medical staff is one of the most common reasons for wrong-site surgeries. This can occur during handoffs, in surgical preparation, or even during the surgery itself.
- Inadequate preoperative checks. Failing to properly verify the surgical site multiple times before the operation can lead to mistakes.
- Time pressure. Sometimes, the urgency of a situation may lead to rushed procedures that skip over important checks and balances.
- Similar patient names or medical records. Confusion can occur if 2 patients have similar names or if their medical records get mixed up.
- Documentation errors. Incorrect or incomplete documentation of the surgical site can mislead surgical teams.
- Human error. Simple mistakes, such as misreading a patient chart or failing to properly mark a surgical site, frequently lead to wrong-site surgeries.
- Multiple surgeons or procedures. When more than 1 surgical procedure is being performed on a patient or when multiple surgeons are involved, the risk of wrong-site surgery may increase due to complexity.
- Lack of standardized protocols. Some hospitals may lack standardized procedures for marking surgical sites or verifying patient details, increasing the likelihood of errors.
- Distractions and fatigue. Surgeons, nurses and other medical staff who are tired or distracted may be more prone to making mistakes, including wrong-site surgeries.
To minimize these risks, many hospitals implement rigorous checks and protocols, such as the “time-out” procedure recommended by the Joint Commission, where all activity stops for final verification of the patient, surgical site, and planned procedure before the first incision is made. Despite these precautions, errors can still occur, making vigilance essential at all stages of surgical care.
Recent Florida wrong-site surgeries
A Florida doctor, Dr. Scott Zenoni, mistakenly operated on the wrong end of a patient’s colon during a colostomy procedure, resulting in the patient’s inability to pass gas or have bowel movements. The error, which occurred in October 2020, led to an administrative complaint and potential disciplinary actions ranging from fines to license revocation. The mistake was corrected in a subsequent surgery 12 days later.
Since this was Zenoni’s first offense, he’s likely to only face continuing medical education classes on wrong-site surgeries and a fine. Although the patient also has the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against him.
Florida urologist Dr. Raul Fernandez-Crespo has been fined $2,500 by the Department of Health for mistakenly removing a patient’s right testicle instead of the left one during a varicocelectomy. In addition to the fine, Dr. Fernandez-Crespo is required to either complete a 5-hour medical education course in risk management or attend 8 hours of disciplinary hearings, followed by giving a 1-hour lecture on wrong-site surgeries.
As with the previously mentioned case, the patient has the right to pursue compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
What steps should be taken to prevent wrong-site surgeries?
To prevent wrong-site surgeries and ensure patient safety, medical staff are supposed to follow something called the “Universal Protocol,” which is a set of safety standards and guidelines developed by The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits health care organizations and programs in the United States.
The protocol aims to prevent wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-person surgeries. The Universal Protocol applies not just to surgical procedures but also to other invasive procedures that carry more than minimal risk.
Here’s how the Universal Protocol is designed to prevent wrong-site surgeries:
- Preoperative verification. Before any surgery or procedure, a comprehensive verification process is undertaken to confirm all relevant documents and studies. This ensures that all necessary equipment is available and that everyone understands what is to be done.
- Involvement of the patient. Whenever possible, the patient is involved in all stages of this process, from preoperative verification to marking the surgical site. This provides an additional layer of safety.
- Time-out procedure. Just before the start of the invasive procedure, the surgical team takes a “time-out” to verify one final time that they have the correct patient, correct procedure, and correct surgical site. This is a mandatory and deliberate pause where all activities cease, allowing all members of the surgical team to focus solely on these critical checks.
- Surgical site marking. The specific site to be operated on is marked in a way that is clearly understood by all team members and is unambiguous. The marking should remain visible after the patient has been prepped and draped for the procedure.
- Team communication. Clear and open communication among all members of the surgical team is encouraged throughout the process. Team members are trained to speak up if they identify a potential issue.
- Documentation. Proper documentation is completed at each step, from preoperative verification to the time-out procedure, to ensure that all steps were followed. This can provide a record for quality assurance and can also serve as a tool for analyzing any mistakes, should they occur.
What are the consequences of wrong-site surgeries when the Universal Protocol isn’t followed?
Wrong-site surgery can have devastating consequences for patients when the Universal Protocol isn’t followed. One is that patients often require additional procedures to correct the original problem and fix the surgical error. This can lead to hefty medical expenses and significantly longer recovery times.
Patients can also suffer serious pain, disfigurement and disability. In some cases, the damage can be permanent and prevent the person from being able to earn a living. In the worst-case scenario, a patient can even die from wrong-site surgery.
Types of compensation and damage caps in Florida medical malpractice cases
There are no damage caps in Florida medical malpractice cases. This means that if you suffer harm as a result of wrong-site surgery, there is no limit to how much compensation you can recover through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Both economic and noneconomic damages are available in such claims:
- Economic damages include those that have a monetary value, such as medical expenses and lost income.
- Noneconomic damages are harder to quantify. They compensate an injured party for nonmonetary damages they incur, like pain and suffering or emotional distress.
It’s also possible to recover punitive damages if the doctor’s conduct was especially negligent or if they’ve made similar mistakes in the past.
Who may be liable for a wrong-site surgery?
Liability in a wrong-site surgery can be complex and may involve multiple parties depending on the circumstances of the case. Here are some potential parties that could be held liable:
- Surgeon. The surgeon is often the first to be considered for liability, as they are primarily responsible for performing the procedure correctly.
- Anesthesiologists. If they were involved in prepping the patient and did not properly verify the site or the patient, they could share in the liability.
- Nursing staff. Nurses who prepared the patient for surgery or were present in the operating room might also be held liable if they failed to follow protocols that could have prevented the mistake.
- Consulting physicians. If other doctors were consulted prior to the procedure and provided incorrect information or failed to verify information, they could also be considered liable.
- Surgical team members. Other professionals in the operating room, such as surgical assistants or technicians, could also share liability if they had a role in the mistake.
- Radiology or lab personnel. If the wrong-site surgery was based on incorrect or mislabeled imaging or test results, the individuals who conducted these tests may share liability.
- Administrative staff. Those responsible for patient records, scheduling or other administrative tasks could potentially be liable if clerical errors contributed to the wrong-site surgery.
- Hospital or medical facility. The institution itself could be liable if the staff involved were directly employed by the facility.
An experienced personal injury lawyer specializing in medical malpractice can review your medical records and help you determine which parties may be liable in your specific situation.
How do you prove negligence in a medical malpractice case for a wrong-site surgery?
Duty of care refers to the legal obligation that a person or organization has to exercise reasonable care and caution when performing actions that could potentially harm others. In a healthcare context, this means that medical professionals are obligated to provide treatment that meets established standards of care, ensuring the well-being and safety of their patients.
Proving negligence in a medical malpractice case for wrong-site surgery involves a legal framework that generally consists of 4 key elements related to the duty of care.
The first step is establishing that the healthcare provider (e.g., the surgeon, nurse, or hospital) had a duty of care toward the patient. In medical malpractice cases, this is often straightforward because once a doctor-patient relationship is established, the healthcare provider has a professional obligation to provide competent care.
2. Breach of duty
Once duty has been established, the next step is to prove that there was a breach of that duty. In the case of wrong-site surgery, this could involve showing that the healthcare provider failed to follow established medical protocols for verifying the surgical site, patient identity, or the procedure to be performed.
Evidence may include medical records, witness testimony and expert opinions to show that the standard of care was not met.
After establishing a breach of duty, it must then be proven that this breach directly caused the patient’s injury. In the case of wrong-site surgery, this usually isn’t difficult to establish. For example, if a surgeon operates on the wrong knee, it’s clear that the surgeon’s actions directly resulted in unnecessary surgical trauma to that knee.
Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that they suffered damages as a result of the negligence. Damages could be physical (e.g., pain, additional surgical interventions), emotional (e.g., psychological trauma), financial (e.g., additional medical bills, loss of income), or a combination thereof. Documentation such as bills, pay stubs, and medical records can serve as evidence of these damages.
How long do I have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Florida?
The statute of limitations in Florida for medical malpractice lawsuits involving wrong-site surgeries is 2 years from the date of the incident or discovery of the incident. Failure to file a lawsuit within this 2-year time frame will prevent you from recovering any compensation.
Contact an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney
If you’re suffering from the aftermath of a wrong-site surgery in the Tampa area, it’s crucial that you discuss your case with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who understands the complexities of these types of cases.
At Lorenzo & Lorenzo, our firm has extensive experience in personal injury cases involving medical malpractice. We’ve gone up against some of the biggest hospitals in the region to fight for our clients’ rights, and we’d love to do the same for you.
We’re available to answer any questions or concerns you may have, so contact our office today for a free consultation to learn more about your rights.