No one expects to sustain an injury while receiving medical care. Patients turn to their healthcare providers for competent care. However, mistakes like receiving the wrong medication or a missed diagnosis can have lasting effects. Learn more about common types of medical errors and what legal recourse injured patients may have.
Five common types of medical errors
A medical error is any preventable mistake that occurs in a healthcare setting. These errors can injure a patient and cause their primary condition to worsen. Below are five of the most common medical errors in the U.S. This is not an exhaustive list. You should speak with a lawyer even if the medical error you experienced is not covered below.
Surgeons and other OR staff often work long shifts.
Fatigue, distraction, and a lack of training can lead to devastating mistakes:
- Operating on the wrong body part. Sidedness errors operating on a right body part instead of the left, and vice versa are common errors.
- Making an incision in the wrong location. Even if the surgeon or OR staff catches this mistake immediately, the patient still has a painful and unnecessary incision that must heal. Surgical incisions are at-risk for infection and permanent scarring.
- Injuring healthy, adjacent tissue. Serious injury can occur when a surgeon slices or damages a healthy organ or nerve.
- Leaving a surgical instrument inside the body. Forgotten surgical equipment such as gauze and scalpels can cause an infection and internal damage. The patient must undergo a second surgery to remove these foreign objects.
- Anesthesia errors. Anesthesiologists work side-by-side with surgeons and other OR staff to ensure safe operations. Critical anesthesia mistakes include administering too much or too few drugs, a lack of patient monitoring, and failing to take prompt action if the patient is distressed.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s “Medical Error Reduction and Prevention,” at least 4,000 surgical mistakes occur each year in the U.S. It’s possible that more surgical errors occur but are never detected or reported.
Mistakes made when prescribing, filling, or administering medication can have serious consequences.
Patients may unknowingly take drugs they are allergic to or have a contraindication for.
- Giving medication to the wrong patient. The practice of scanning patient wristbands can prevent medication errors in many inpatient settings. However, staff members do not always follow protocol. And some settings may not require identification wristbands, such as assisted living facilities.
- Dosage errors. Patients suffer when they receive too much or too little medication. Overdoses can have lasting effects and even be fatal. Too small a dose can be ineffective at relieving pain, curing an infection, or treating a progressive disease like cancer.
- Dispensing errors. Pharmacy errors include filling a prescription with the wrong drug, miscalculating a dose, storing drugs at an inappropriate temperature, and overlooking documented drug allergies.
According to the NIH’s “Medication Dispensing Errors And Prevention,” the annual cost to treat individuals recovering from a medication error is over $40 billion.
Labor and delivery wards are fast-paced. Staff must make split-second decisions.
Birthing individuals and their babies require competent medical care.
- Delay in administering a C-section. Stalled labor may require intervention. The failure to administer a timely C-section can result in a lack of oxygen to the baby.
- Failure to recognize an abnormal birth position. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledges that breech positions can cause complications. The failure to recognize a breech position before labor starts put both the birthing individual and their baby at risk for injuries.
- Improper use of forceps. Stalled labor may require the use of forceps or other tools. Assisting a delivery in this manner requires quick thinking and adequate training. When misused, forceps can cause the birthing individual to experience injury to their uterus or bladder. Babies may have facial or eye injuries.
A birth injury can affect a child and their family for years to come.
Diagnostic mistakes happen during the most critical point in the healthcare timeline.
Patients cannot receive the appropriate care if healthcare providers overlook or misdiagnose their injury or illness.
- Missed diagnosis. The patient is told they are “okay” and sent home. Their disease or condition progresses.
- Misdiagnosis. The wrong diagnosis can lead to inappropriate or delayed treatment.
- Late diagnosis. A patient’s condition can unnecessarily deteriorate without a timely diagnosis.
Many health conditions are easier to treat when caught early. Diagnostic errors cause unnecessary pain and suffering.
Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)
Anyone receiving medical care can be at risk for healthcare-associated infection (HAI).
We list some of the most common HAIs identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) below.
- Surgical site infections. An infected incision prolongs a patient’s recovery time. The infection becomes a separate condition that needs managing.
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia. Staff must carefully monitor patients who are on ventilators. A break from protocol can spread germs and cause an infection.
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infections. A lack of infection control methods can cause germs to enter a patient’s urinary tract. The CDC estimates that 75 percent of HAI urinary tract infections are associated with urinary catheter use.
These and other HAIs can spread due to staff’s failure to wash or disinfect their hands, a failure to properly disinfect surfaces, protocol lapses, and inadequate training.
The difference between medical errors and unfavorable outcomes
It can be deeply disappointing when medical care or treatment does not result in the outcome you hoped for. While these circumstances are unfortunate, it does not necessarily mean a medical error occurred.
All medical errors are preventable. Factors like inattentiveness, poor oversight, and insufficient training cause these mistakes.
An unfavorable outcome occurs despite the patient receiving competent care. Doctors and other staff members provided an appropriate level of care for the patient’s condition.
Where do medical errors occur?
A preventable mistake can happen anywhere you or your loved one receive medical care or treatment.
- Surgical centers
- Emergency rooms
- Outpatient clinics
- Birth centers
- Nursing homes
- Assisted living facilities
- Memory care units
- Dental offices
- Substance abuse treatment centers
- Jails, prisons, and other detention centers
Everyone deserves competent and timely treatment, no matter where they receive medical care.
Common causes of medical errors
There are numerous reasons why medical mistakes happen.
Some of the most common ones are:
- Insufficient training or education
- Staff fatigue
- Inadequate staffing
- Lack of training
- A break in protocol
- Documentation errors and omissions
All of these errors have one thing in common: they are preventable.
Medical error lawsuit: Are you eligible?
Any medical error is unfortunate and can make you lose confidence in your healthcare provider.
However, the sole fact that an error took place is not enough to base a lawsuit on. The purpose of a settlement is to obtain compensation for damages like bodily injury and emotional suffering.
You can’t file a personal injury claim if the medical error didn’t cause you to incur damages. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that you don’t have a case. The only way to know if you are eligible for a medical error settlement is to consult with a lawyer.
Medical error settlements: An overview
There are tangible and intangible damages associated with a medical error.
The law may entitle you to compensation for these damages, including:
- Medical treatment
- Lost income, if you can’t work due to your medical error injury
- Physical pain and emotional suffering
It’s common for injured individuals to wonder, “How much is the average medical error settlement?” There are no averages when it comes to personal injuries. Your case is about your medical error and how it affects your life.
An adequate settlement amount compensates you for your current and future damages. If your medical error requires lifelong care, your settlement should reflect that.
Deadline to file a medical error injury claim
Medical error lawsuits are complex. State laws categorize these cases as either personal injury or medical malpractice. How the law classifies your case doesn’t affect your day-to-day life. You’re recovering from an injury and have bills to pay. The sooner you receive compensation, the better.
But what type of case you have is important to your attorney. In some states, the statutes of limitation for medical malpractice and personal injury claims differ.
A statute of limitations is the deadline you have to file a legal claim. The court will likely refuse to hear your case if you file it after this deadline.
Medical malpractice versus personal injury: What is the difference?
Generally speaking, medical malpractice laws allow patients to sue doctors directly. Healthcare facilities or organizations are typically held responsible for errors made by other types of medical staff.
You don’t have to worry about what type of claim you have when you hire an attorney. They’ll make that determination after carefully reviewing the details of your case.
What you do need to know is:
- The law limits how long you have to file a claim for any medical error case
- You’ll likely lose your chance at a settlement if you miss this deadline
You can preserve your legal rights by consulting an attorney right away.
How states determine statutes of limitation
State law calculates a statute of limitation starting on the date the error happened.
However, the law recognizes that some errors are not immediately apparent. Their effects are only known or discovered later. In those circumstances, the clock often starts ticking the day you learned about or should have been aware of the medical error.
How a medical error lawyer can help you
It’s in your best interest to seek legal representation after a medical error injury. There are many ways a lawyer can help you.
Pursue maximum compensation
Medical error law firms exist for a reason. Insurance companies rarely do the right thing by voluntarily offering an adequate settlement. Never forget that despite catchy slogans and heartfelt advertisements, insurance companies are for-profit entities, not charities.
Insurance representatives have one goal: to settle your claim as quickly as possible and for the least amount of money you’ll accept. The law likely entitles you to more than the initial insurance payout. A medical error lawyer will fight for maximum compensation on your behalf.
Build a strong case
Some medical errors are immediately evident and impossible to cover up. However, many are not. Medical error law firms can partner with other professionals to build a strong case. They may collaborate with medical professionals or occupational experts. Attorneys can also take legal action to interview witnesses and collect evidence.
Meet important deadlines
A legal claim involves several deadlines. The first is the statute of limitations, the deadline by which your attorney must file your claim. There will be other vital dates along the way. When you hire an attorney to represent you, they keep track of these deadlines. You already have a full calendar with medical appointments and life in general.
Represent you in court
Some medical error cases will settle without stepping foot in a courtroom. However, your attorney should be willing and ready to take your case to trial if necessary. There are circumstances where putting your case in the hands of a judge or a jury could result in the best possible outcome.
How to find the right medical error lawyer for your case?
Finding the right lawyer for your case is essential. Consider asking these questions at your consultation.
How much do you charge?
Most law firms that handle medical error cases work on a contingency fee basis. They collect their fees out of your settlement. However, each firm may operate a little differently. And you may still be responsible for paying court costs or other expenses even if you don’t win your case. Make sure you understand a lawyer’s payment schedule before you hire them.
Will you prepare my case as if it’s going to trial?
Some law firms focus on fast settlements, not their clients’ best interests. They consider a court trial as a last resort. They neither plan for nor are prepared to take your case to trial.
What you want is a trial attorney who is ready and willing to go to court if that is the best outcome for your case.
How will we communicate during the duration of my case?
Will someone at the firm answer the phone 24/7 if you have an emergency? When you call, will you talk to a paralegal or your attorney?
Can you show me the outcomes of your past cases?
The outcomes of some medical error cases may be confidential. However, some jury-awarded verdicts are public knowledge. A potential lawyer will be happy to discuss these cases with you. A law firm will also have testimonials to share with you.
Learn more from a medical error attorney
Were you or a loved one injured while receiving medical care? A lawyer can help you pursue a settlement. Learn if you’re eligible to file a medical error claim.