The operating room is often a very dangerous place for patients. Even when you’re on the operating table in the best hospital, things can go wrong either because of bad procedures or because of simple mistakes made by doctors, nurses, and other operating suite staff. One thing that people may not realize about medical malpractice is that it does not require any intention by the doctor to cause harm or proof of any level of recklessness. Even simple mistakes or surgical errors could be actionable if the hospital or surgeon failed to follow clear rules of the road applicable to surgery. It is not like a criminal trial where you have to prove that there was some bad motive or that the doctor was drunk.
It is enough if they were negligent to be held responsible for patient injuries that they cause and negligence is really just the failure to use the ordinary care that would be expected of a doctor under the same circumstances.
The term that we Virginia medical malpractice lawyers use to describe what is a valid claim is the phrase, “a violation of the standard of care.” The idea is that there are standards of care that any surgeon or hospital knows apply for the safe administration of a hospital operating room of an out surgical practice. There are certain things that you must do and certain things you must not do. Every doctor practicing in that field knows these basic rules or standards of care. When a doctor or another healthcare provider has violated the standard of care by not obeying the basic rules that the entire medical community has agreed to, then they can be held responsible for any resulting injuries.
Sometimes it is hard to know as a patient whether a particularly bad result from an operation was or wasn’t a violation of the standard of care. Some things are clearer like leaving a surgical instrument, a surgical device, or a surgical towel or sponge in a patient. Most of the time if that’s done and the patient is closed up at the end of the operation and the surgeon in charge has not realized that they have left something in the patient, that tends to be a more obvious kind of claim.
Even a regular lay person can understand that that’s likely a violation of the standard of care. Other kinds of surgical errors may be less obvious, and it requires another surgeon to say whether the first surgeon, in fact, violated a clear cut rule or not. So, for example, in a hysterectomy or other abdominal surgery, it may not be a violation of the applicable standard of care for the surgeon to mistakenly cut a piece of the intestine or other body part causing a hole or a hole, rupture or puncture.
On the other hand, if the doctor not only has hit something by mistake with the scalpel or surgical instruments and fails to realize that he has even done that, that’s more likely to be a clear violation of the standard of care. The idea is that even if you were ordinarily careful and hit the intestine and caused it to leak, that you should realize before you sew the patient back up that something has been perforated and is leaking rather than just closing the person up without realizing that has just happened. Often if the patient has some kind of hole made in their intestines which is leaking, it can become infected and require later surgery to deal with the problem that should have been avoided if the original surgeon had realized they had cut of nicked something during the procedure.
Surgical errors are an unfortunate reality. Anytime you undergo any kind of operation there is some chance of surgical error causing injury. When a surgical error is the result of a clear violation of the standard of care and results in a very serious injury, then it is time to contact a lawyer specializing in malpractice to see that can be done to force the physician and facility to be financially responsible for the harm they caused. Call our medical malpractice attorneys at 757.455.0077.