When Is a Medical Error Considered a Medical Malpractice Case?

Posted by Randy Andrus | May 31, 2022

Accidents and errors can happen anywhere – even on the surgical table. For these incidents to fall into the category of medical malpractice, negligence or intentional bad behavior must be established. That is to say, not all medical errors are considered medical malpractice. In this article, we'll discuss when a medical error is malpractice. 

If you've been hurt as a result of a medical error caused by a negligent healthcare provider, call our medical malpractice lawyer in Salt Lake City today to schedule an initial, confidential consultation. You can reach Andrus Law Firm at 801-535-4645, or fill out the convenient and secure contact form on this page.

What Types of Errors Happen in the Operating Room?

While medical technology and research have decreased certain risks in the operating room, accidents and errors still happen. Even the most skilled doctors and healthcare providers can make mistakes – after all, doctors are only human. Unfortunately, sometimes these mistakes are a result of negligence. Some of the most common surgical errors that may fall into the category of medical malpractice include:

  1. Unnecessary surgeries
  2. Anesthesia mistakes, such as administering too much, being unaware of patient allergies, etc
  3. Surgical procedures performed on the wrong site
  4. Surgical procedures performed on the wrong patient
  5. Surgical procedures performed on the wrong side of the body
  6. Accidental penetration or cutting of an organ, blood vessel, or another part of the body
  7. Leaving surgical tools and instruments inside the patient
  8. Mistakes made before or after the procedure, such as insufficient follow up
  9. Infections
  10. Nerve damage

Why Do Medical Errors Happen?

The reasons for surgical errors like the ones listed above vary from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, and procedure to procedure. Some of the reasons that medical errors happen in the operating room include:

  • Lack of planning - Having a plan before a surgical procedure is expected and necessary. When the worst events are not planned for, a patient's health can be put in great harm – having tools reachable, the right medical professionals on standby, and thoroughly understanding the patient's full medical history are all important parts of a pre-surgery plan.
  • Exhaustion/fatigue - Many surgeons spend long periods of time on their feet over an operating table, which can increase the risk of exhaustion and fatigue and cause more surgical errors.
  • Communication failure - Communication is a vital part of a successful procedure. If key notes are missed or not communicated properly or appropriately, disastrous consequences happen, such as surgical procedures on the wrong patient or operating site. 
  • Incompetence - If a surgeon doesn't have experience with a certain procedure, incompetence can be a contributing factor when it comes to medical mistakes.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse - When a doctor or medical professional works while under the influence, it severely impairs his or her judgment, which is a recipe for disaster when a patient is under the knife.
  • Staffing errors/lack of staff - When hospitals aren't properly staffed, problems arise, such as having too few hands to provide assistance or working the same employees too many hours causing fatigue.
  • Negligence - Negligence can be present in any and all of the above examples. When a doctor or medical professional is negligent, he or she is not taking the proper precautions to reasonably protect a patient.

When Are Potential Damages Available After a Medical Error?

A surgical mistake can lead to large medical bills and other associated expenses that pile up quickly. Similarly, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other forms of trauma and discomfort can make life a lot more difficult. If a doctor, medical professional, or medical entity is proven to have been negligent, causing a patient undue loss, legal compensation may be available to help the patient recover from those losses. The types of losses that may be recoverable in a medical malpractice case are:

  • Economic Damages - Economic damages are monetary, including losses like medical bills, physical therapy costs, rehabilitation expenses, etc.
  • Non-Economic Damages - Non-economic damages refer to losses that are not as tangible or easily converted into monetary terms, such as emotional trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and suffering, etc.
  • Punitive Damages - Sometimes a judge or court may order the defendant to pay punitive damages in especially negligent or harmful cases in an effort to dissuade similar harmful behavior in the future. 

To seek these types of losses, a patient must prove that the doctor, medical professional, or medical entity was negligent in providing the standard of care, which directly contributed to a patient's injuries and losses. When this negligence in upholding the standard of care happens and a patient suffers direct losses from the resulting injury, a patient may be entitled to legal compensation. Four elements must be present to establish a medical malpractice claim:

  1. Duty of care - A doctor-patient relationship must exist. This means that a patient has hired a doctor and that doctor has agreed to be hired by the patient. Once this relationship is established, the doctor has a duty of care to uphold in providing the same standard of care that a similar, competent professional with the same level of experience in the same realm of medicine would have provided.
  2. Deviation from the standard of care - A deviation from the established standard of care must be proven. 
  3. Direct cause of injury - The next step is to prove that the deviation of the standard of care caused direct injury to the patient.
  4. Damages - Damages that can be compensated by the court must exist. This means that due to the provider's breach in duty, the plaintiff sustained some level of damages (medical bills, physical therapy, additional medication expenses, etc).

Call Our Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Salt Lake City

Doctors should make us better, but, unfortunately, this isn't always the case. When negligence is at play, a doctor can make a patient much, much worse. If you or a loved one has been hurt due to a doctor's negligence, there may be legal remedy available for you. If your injury from a medical mistake is creating a mountain of medical debt and emotional trauma, you're not alone. Our medical malpractice lawyer and dedicated legal team will fight for your right to recover. To schedule an initial case review and evaluation, call 801-535-4645 or fill out our secure online form here

To read more about medical malpractice, review the following blog posts:

While we hope the content on our website provides general information to a general audience, know that it is NOT INTENDED to be a substitute for actual legal advice. We urge you to contact our knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer to review the specific facts of your case. 

We are located at 

299 S Main Street, Suite 1395 

Salt Lake City, UT 84111

We serve the entire state of Utah. 

About the Author

Randy Andrus

BIO   Education University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law (LL.M. 1987) Business and Taxation – Transnational Practice Courses and International Bar Association Convention, Salzburg, Austria Southwestern University School of Law (J.D. 1984) Dean's List American Jurisprudence...

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