Common But Serious Medical Errors Resulting in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

surgeon pixlr

Twenty years ago, researchers published a groundbreaking report on serious medical errors. “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” from the Institute of Medicine, that for the first time put a national spotlight on patient harm derived from substandard medical care. And just four years ago, a Johns Hopkins University study concluded that medical errors kill 250,000 people a year in the United States, making them the third leading cause of death in the country (“Medical Error—The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US”).

A major stakeholder in the financial fallout from serious medical errors recently issued a report that proclaims not enough progress has been made over the last two decades to protect patients from preventable medical mistakes.

In October, Coverys, a provider of medical malpractice insurance, released its whitepaper, “A Call for Action – Insights from a Decade of Medical Malpractice Claims.”  The report is based on a review of over 20,000 closed medical malpractice lawsuits between 2010 and 2019.

Coverys’ review of medical malpractice lawsuits over the last 10 years shows that medical errors resulted in fatal or highly severe injuries about one third of the time.  Almost a quarter of the medical mistakes resulting in lawsuits involved the death of the patient.

There hasn’t been much improvement in the number of physicians making serious errors over the last decade.  Between 2010 and 2014, an average of 4.6 medical malpractice claims was made for every 100 doctors.  Between 2015 and 2019, that rate nudged down only slightly, to 4.4 serious medical error lawsuits per 100 physicians.

High Rate of Medical Malpractice Claims in These Medical Specialties

Consistently in that timeframe, the medical specialties that had the highest medical malpractice claim rates were:

  • Obstetrics
  • Surgery
  • Radiology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Emergency room medicine

Of those specialties, surgery has been the most problematic in terms of serious medical errors.  Coverys found that surgeons typically had the most numerous claims of medical malpractice between 2010 and 2019.

Over 60% of the medical malpractice lawsuits for surgical errors involved surgeons who had multiple instances of errors involved in patient lawsuits.

Surgeries and Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

In terms of surgeon specialties with repeated medical errors, neurosurgery topped the list:

  • Neurosurgeons – 19.8% had 2 medical malpractice claims/10.4% three or more claims
  • Bariatric surgery (such as gastric bypass) – 16.1%/6.3%
  • Obstetricians – 13.3%/6.7%
  • Trauma surgery – 12.7%/7.9%
  • General surgery – 9.5%/3.6%

There are broad categories of common but serious medical mistakes.  But the Coverys report found that these two accounted for about six out of every 10 medical malpractice lawsuits resulting in financial awards:

  • Surgical errors – such as wrong site, wrong patient, wrong procedure
  • Medical misdiagnosis – such as wrong diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, missed diagnosis

While surgical errors accounted for the highest percentage of medical malpractice claims, according to this research patients suffering from a misdiagnosis experienced the greatest harm.

Just about 8% of the surgery medical malpractice lawsuits involved the patient’s death, but 35% of patients who were misdiagnosed died as a result.  Cancer, infections, and cardiac conditions were the conditions most incorrectly diagnosed or missed.

Errors made with patient medications also were cited in the report, as they accounted for just under 10% of all medical malpractice lawsuits between 2010 and 1019.

Despite these serious patient consequences, one sentence in the report’s introduction effectively summarizes the effort – or lack thereof – by healthcare providers to address the grave issue of medical errors that critically injure patients:

Change is not happening as quickly and collectively as it needs to be.”

When hospitals fail to make changes that prevent negligent behavior by medical care providers, patients and their families suffer needlessly.  A medical malpractice lawsuit provides a way for injured patients to receive the financial compensation they deserve.  It also can put a stop to a hospital’s or a physician’s careless actions.

If you suspect you or a family member were the victim of a serious error during medical treatment, discuss your experience with a medical malpractice lawyer.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles October 29, 2020

Related Practice Areas

Jump to Page

By using this site, you agree to our updated Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use.