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HKQ Firm News

When surgeons make mistakes


A 67-year-old woman is admitted to a teaching hospital for cerebral angiography. One day after that procedure, she undergoes a cardiac electrophysiology study – a procedure she was not scheduled to have. The invasive procedure was to have been performed on a 77-year old woman with a similar name. As a result of some 17 mistakes by a number of people, the 67-year-old was exposed to unnecessary risks. Some of those risks included puncture of the heart, damage to heart valves, blood clots, stroke or heart attack and in rare cases, could have even resulted in death. Unfortunately, this wrong-patient incident is not unusual. A Journal of American Medical Association study identified 5,940 such events over a 13-year period. That’s 457 people per year!

HKQ Law Attorney Michael Lombardo notes that “Every year an estimated 4,000 people who undergo surgery are injured by surgical errors”. These preventable mistakes are called “never events” because they never should have happened.

Common surgical errors

It is often said that “there’s no such thing as minor surgery.” As the statistics bear out, things do go wrong during surgery. Common surgical errors include:

  • Leaving surgical equipment (e.g., sponges or instruments) inside a patient
  • Using unsterile surgical instruments
  • Performing surgery on the wrong body part
  • Performing the wrong procedure
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Damaging nerves during procedure
  • Cutting or puncturing organs that were not involved in the procedure
  • Failing to administer an appropriate dose of anesthesia

Causes of surgical errors

There are a number of reasons why surgical errors occur. They include:

Deficiencies – A surgeon may not have performed a particular procedure very often and simply lacks the skill to perform the surgery properly. Not all surgeons have the necessary skills to adequately perform a given task.

Poor communication – Failure to communicate properly is often a major factor in wrong-procedure, wrong-site and wrong-patient surgeries. Miscommunication can result in serious, sometimes deadly consequences. 

Insufficient pre-operative planning – Pre-surgery preparation is crucial to the success of a surgical procedure. Without it, a surgeon may be unable to handle complications which can occur during a procedure. What’s more, the surgical team may not have all the necessary equipment available when it is needed by an experienced surgeon. 

Improper work process – Surgeons may not perform certain steps during the procedure, incorrectly concluding that they are not necessary.

Fatigue – Surgeons often work long shifts. The resulting fatigue makes them more likely to make mistakes.

Negligence – Some surgical errors are simply the result of negligence. For example, failure to make sure that all instruments are properly sterilized and equipment is functioning properly.  Negligence may result in severe infections, septic shock, and other life-threatening conditions. Failure to monitor equipment or vital signs may also result in injury.

Surgical Error or Bad Outcome?

Not all surgeries result in a positive outcome. However, a bad outcome doesn’t necessarily prove that a mistake was made or that medical malpractice occurred. Nor does a surgical error always rise to the level of malpractice. If the mistake did not fall below the “medical standard of care” or the patient was not harmed by it, there is no malpractice.

The “medical standard of care” is defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice.

As with any medical malpractice claim, surgical error cases require that four elements be met: duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.

Every medical professional owes their patients a “duty of care”. When a surgeon fails to uphold his or her duty of care – deviating from or fallen below the standard of care – they are liable for any damages that are suffered by the patient as a result. In order to recover compensation in a medical malpractice claim, plaintiffs must prove that there is a direct cause between their injuries (or other damages) and the medical professional’s breach of duty. In order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered actual damages – whether they be economic (financial damages) or non-economic (pain and suffering).

Why Experienced Legal Representation Matters

Surgical error cases can be very complex. They may include additional issues such as pre-existing conditions, informed consent and equipment malfunction (which could support a product liability claim).

Medical malpractice attorneys handling surgical error cases need to meticulously examine the patient’s hospital records. You have the right to obtain your own medical records. You can also choose to authorize a lawyer to obtain them on your behalf. To speak with one of HKQ Law’s Medical Malpractice Attorneys, call (800) 760-1529.

About HKQ Law

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Report, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm across multiple categories in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



As Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn addresses the concerns raised by COVID-19, the health and safety of our clients, employees and friends of the firm remain our top priority.

These are very difficult and scary times and we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and symptom free. We recognize that so many of you are understandably anxious about your health, the economic impact of this pandemic and all of the consequences of social isolation.

We also recognize that many of you are anxious about how the coronavirus is impacting the Court systems, our firm and your cases. Although all of our offices are closed, our firm has remained fully operational and we have initiated procedures that allow all of our attorneys and staff to work remotely from their homes. Each of us and our staff will respond to any emails and calls about your cases as quickly as possible.

Our Federal and State Courts have instituted significant changes in their calendars as a result of the coronavirus. Although most courthouses are closed to the public, and Hearings and Trials will be delayed for some time, there are matters that can proceed telephonically and by video. Despite these changes in the Court calendars, we are working diligently on your cases and are determined to do whatever we possibly can to assure an early and just recovery for you and your loved ones. Even under these difficult circumstances, we believe that "Nobody will work harder for you than we will."

With regard to new potential clients, we are not in a position to have an in-person new client meeting, but we will be conducting these initial meetings via phone. New potential clients should call us for a free telephone consultation at (570) 287-3000.


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