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Medical Malpractice and Surgical Mistakes

Casey Woodruff

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, the University of Illinois has agreed to pay $10 million to settle a medical malpractice claim alleging a surgical error that resulted in catastrophic brain injury to a young child in the Chicago area. The parties reached a proposed settlement, according to the article, just before the case was set to go to trial. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff (the toddler’s mother) alleges that a pediatric surgeon at the University of Illinois’s Chicago hospital “used a suturing device that severed the boy’s pulmonary artery” in a surgery designed to repair a leak in his esophagus.

The proposed settlement included a total of $30 million. The University of Illinois will pay $10 million, while the Rush University Medical Center—also a Chicago facility where the pediatric surgeon operated on the child—will pay $20 million of the total. How common are surgical errors like the one reported here? And is this a common settlement amount in medical malpractice cases?

Learning More About Surgical Errors

Did you know that more than 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes happen every year? That is the figure provided by an article in WebMD Health News. These errors often are referred to as “never events,” meaning that they are avoidable and never should happen. A report from the Patient Safety Network explains that the most common surgical mistakes include the following:

  • Wrong-site errors;surgeons
  • Wrong procedure mistakes;
  • Wrong-patient surgery;
  • Organ lacerations during surgery; and
  • Leaving a foreign object (like a towel or sponge) inside a patient.

When it comes to wrong-site surgery, the most common mistake is operating on the wrong side of the body. Indeed, of all wrong-site surgeries, wrong-side operations accounted for nearly 60 percent of these errors, while other wrong-site surgeries accounted for about 23 percent of the mistakes reported. Wrong procedures—performing the wrong procedure altogether—happen less frequently, and they account for about 14 percent of all types of wrong-site surgery. How often does a surgeon leave a foreign object inside a patient? According to the WebMD Health News article, this surgical error happens around 39 times every week, while wrong-site and wrong-procedure surgical mistakes happen about 20 times each week in the U.S.

Medical Malpractice Payouts for Mistakes Made in Surgery

What are common medical malpractice payout amounts for surgical mistakes? The WebMD Health News article reports that the total each year is around $1.3 billion (taking into account all verdicts and settlements in a given year). Each case is different, though, and it can be difficult to predict an amount for any given case.

We do know, however, that a large majority of medical malpractice awards for surgical mistakes come in the form of settlements. Indeed, according to an article in Forbes Magazine, about 96 percent of payouts result from a settlement instead of a jury verdict. In Illinois, the per capita payouts were among the highest in the country.

Discuss Your Case with a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Chicago

If you or someone you love sustained injuries that resulted from a surgical mistake, you should speak with a dedicated Chicago medical malpractice attorney to learn more about filing a claim for compensation. Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today for more information.

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