Mistakes during Surgery: The Most Common Surgical Errors, Why They Happen, and What You Can Do

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

Surgery is typically the last resort that a medical professional will pursue in treating a patient’s condition, and it’s with good reason — surgical procedures carry many inherent risks. Even for the most common operations and in the hands of the most capable surgeons, patients still face the threat of complications with potentially devastating consequences. However, these risks are greatly magnified when surgeons fail to exercise the level of professionalism expected of their position.

Surgical errors are a serious problem in the United States, and victims of these types of mistakes often face dramatic, life-altering repercussions. In the worst cases, surgical errors can lead to death, but even non-fatal surgical missteps can cause permanent damage. 

Fortunately, though, victims of surgical mistakes have the option to pursue compensation from the person or party at fault for the injury with the assistance of a McAllen medical malpractice lawyer.

What Is a Surgical Error?

Simply put, a surgical mistake is a preventable error made during surgery.

There is no such thing as minor surgery, as every operation carries some risk. It’s why you typically have to sign a form before undergoing surgery — this informed consent confirms you are aware of the known risks and willing to go ahead.

But a risk occurring does not equal medical malpractice. What differentiates a surgical mistake is that it goes beyond the known risks and that the error in question caused harm and happened due to a breach of care.

What Are the Most Common Mistakes during Surgery?

Whether due to fatigue, ignorance, or blatant recklessness, surgeons commit at least 4,000 mistakes every year in the United States. The real number is likely much higher, as mistakes can go unnoticed for years. Some of the leading types of these errors include:

  • Wrong-site surgery
  • Anesthesia errors, such as administering too much or not enough
  • Leaving foreign objects, such as sponges or instruments, in the body
  • Wrong procedures
  • Wrongful amputation
  • Surgery on the wrong patient
  • Not getting informed consent.

These mistakes can affect multiple people, from the person who received the unsafe or unintended procedure to the family members who depend on a patient for support.

Why Do Surgical Mistakes Happen?

As we touched on above, surgical errors can happen for many reasons. However, there are several common reasons surgical mistakes happen. These include:


Surgical errors can happen when a doctor isn’t qualified to operate. This might be because they lack the skill or knowledge needed to perform the procedure or have not previously performed that type of surgery.

Poor Planning

Successful surgery is a team effort, requiring the surgeon, assistant surgeon, anesthesiologist, scrub nurse, and other team members to be well-prepared. If one colleague fails to review the patient’s case, be aware of any potential complications, or ensure all the required equipment is sterilized and available before the operation, it can end in disaster.

Taking Shortcuts

Surgeons may be experienced and have successfully performed a specific procedure hundreds or thousands of times. But that doesn’t mean a surgeon can take shortcuts or make assumptions about a particular outcome.

Failing to Communicate Effectively

Just like poor planning can result in surgical errors, so too can poor communication. Not communicating the correct information can result in mismanaging doses, administering the wrong medication, not having vital tools on hand, and even operating in the wrong place.


Working as a medical professional is a stressful and — often literally, life or death — role. While you may not expect your surgeon to operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it happens, and this makes surgical mistakes all the more likely.


Surgeons often work long shifts and are expected to react at a moment’s notice. Often, a doctor may have multiple surgeries lined up every day, and they aren’t immune from fatigue. When a surgeon is tired, they may not react as quickly as they need to or make preventable mistakes — mistakes that can be life-threatening.

General Recklessness

Surgical errors can happen when a surgeon is generally reckless or neglectful. A typical example is failing to ensure instruments are sterilized or not double-checking any allergies a patient might have.

Medical Malpractice: What Can You Do If a Surgeon Has Made a Mistake?

If you are a victim of a surgical mistake, you may be entitled to claim compensation for medical malpractice.

To prove medical malpractice, you must show:

  • The existence of a surgeon-patient relationship that proves the doctor owed you a duty of care
  • That the surgeon or hospital was negligent
  • That you suffered injury as a result of the negligent act
  • That the harm resulted in you incurring monetary damages.

A surgical error can range from leaving a foreign object in the body to not getting informed consent for a procedure. In the case of informed consent, you can claim compensation if a surgeon failed to disclose the risks involved in your operation and that mentioning such risks could have influenced a reasonable person to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

How Long You Have to Claim Compensation after a Surgical Mistake

Each state has a statute of limitations for personal injury claims. In Texas, the statute of limitations is two years.

This means you have two years from the date of the accident to make a claim. For example, if you were in a rear-end collision, you would have two years from the date of that accident to speak to a car accident lawyer and make a claim.

However, medical malpractice cases are often unique. As such, there are exceptions.

This is notable, as many patients can go years without realizing a surgeon made a mistake. It might not be until five years later that you go into hospital for a routine procedure or have an x-ray to investigate pain in the area where the mistake was made when a surgeon discovers an instrument or discarded sponge still inside your body.

For these cases, Texas law allows patients a “reasonable” amount of time after discovery to file a medical malpractice claim, providing less than ten years have passed since the original incident.

No one should have to bear the burden of a surgical error on their own. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a surgical mistake, contact our tenacious, compassionate Texas personal injury lawyers for a free case review.

Patino Law Firm
1802 N 10th St
McAllen, TX 78501

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