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What are surgical errors?

Surgical errors, in the context of a medical negligence claim, occur when something goes wrong during, shortly following or as a result of surgery, which could reasonably have been avoided.

Surgery is a highly skilled area of medical practice and there are risks involved with every surgery. Although the standard of surgical care in Australia is generally high, things can go wrong. Sometimes, complications arise despite excellent medical skill and care being provided. However, sometimes things go wrong which are avoidable.

An error can occur at any point during any type of surgery.

Some examples of surgical errors are:

  • operating on the wrong body part;
  • carrying out surgery that is not indicated or necessary;
  • leaving equipment such as a clamp or surgical sponge inside a patient;
  • causing infection to occur at or near the surgical site;
  • failure to complete a surgical procedure appropriately (such as failing to completely excise a malignant tumour where a complete excision was possible and indicated);
  • causing unnecessary disfigurement or nerve damage at the surgical site;
  • causing damage to another part of the body not involved in the surgery.  

Can I claim?

Surgical mistakes do not always amount to medical negligence. To do so, it must be shown that:

  • in making the surgical mistake, the medical practitioner did not exercise the reasonable skill, care or expertise to be expected of a medical practitioner of his or her position. Even if this is the case, it must also be shown that;
  • the error caused harm or injury to the patient, beyond the underlying condition the patient was being treated for. In some cases, surgical error does not result in any further material harm to a patient. In such cases, compensation would not be payable.

Situations can also occur where the risks of surgery are not properly communicated to a patient, causing a patient to undergo surgery they would not have had if they had been made fully aware of the risks involved. In such circumstances, if the undisclosed risk materialises, causing damage or injury to the patient, the patient may be able to sue the doctor or hospital for damages.

Get advice

Medical negligence is a particularly complex area of law and any potential claim must be investigated thoroughly. If you have been injured or suffered damage as a result of a surgical error and you think that you have a medical negligence claim, submit an online enquiry now or call us.