Surgery Second-Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice Claims
medical malpractice claims, surgical errors

New Report Says Surgery is the Second Most Common Cause for Medical Malpractice Claims

Every year, millions of Americans undergo surgical procedures in order to improve their health.  Most could never imagine that the surgery that is required could actually put their health in jeopardy.  Sadly, that seems to…

Every year, millions of Americans undergo surgical procedures in order to improve their health.  Most could never imagine that the surgery that is required could actually put their health in jeopardy.  Sadly, that seems to occur far too frequently.  A new report from Coverys, a medical liability insurer, says that surgery is the second most common cause for medical malpractice claims in the United States.

Surgery a Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice Claims

In their report, Coverys analyzed five years of medical malpractice claims from 2014 to 2018.  All of the claims were closed.  Their report found that 25 percent of claims were related to surgery.  The only cause of claims that ranked higher was diagnosis-only claims, which made up 32 percent.

As for the types of surgery most common in medical malpractice claims, the Coverys report shows the following:

  • 22 percent of claims relate to general surgery
  • 17 percent of claims relate to orthopedic surgery
  • Eight percent of claims relate to neurosurgery

An alarming 29 percent of the injuries patients suffered during these surgeries were “permanent significant” or worse.  Nine percent of surgical injuries resulted in the patient dying.

Report Suggests Surgeons are a Major Factor in Medical Malpractice Claims

What is most alarming about the report is the fact that 78 percent of surgery-related claims related to the performance of the surgeon during surgery.  A total of 2,579 claims involved surgeon performance.  The remainder of the claims included factors like decision-making before and after surgery, as well as various phases of the surgical process.  The report shows the following:

  • 39 percent of claim allege that the surgeon had a lack of technical skill.
  • 27 percent of claims relate to a failure in clinical judgment or communication.
  • Seven percent relate to retained objects (a foreign body left inside the patient).
  • Four percent relate to a surgeon performing an unnecessary procedure.
  • Three percent relate to a surgery performed on the wrong side, the wrong patient or the wrong site.
  • Three percent relate to a delay in surgery.

These factors are alarming, and are certainly a reason for patients to be concerned.  After all, we place our trust and our lives in the hands of doctors and surgeons when we sign that consent form.  Any report of such surgical errors should prompt our healthcare system to make changes for the better.

Preventing Surgery-Related Medical Malpractice Claims

Surgeons and insurance companies want to prevent medical malpractice claims because they cost money, harm reputations, and cause harm to patients.  These concerns are relatively minor compared to the burden that patients must bear when they suffer an injury during surgery.  In their report, Coverys offers recommendations for how healthcare teams can improve outcomes and prevent surgical mistakes.  These recommendations include:

  • Physicians should work with patients to ensure that they understand the procedure and risks and are active in decision-making.
  • Surgeons should document their informed consent conversations with patients in medical records. The documentation should include the patient’s response and questions.
  • Operating rooms should be distraction free. Surgical units may find it helpful to remove distractions like music, observers, non-essential conversations and cell phone ringers.
  • Operating rooms should adopt similar guidelines to the aviation industry, which mandates that pilots do not perform non-essential duties during high-risk activities.

The overarching attitude of the report is that distractions are a significant issue in operating rooms, and could be a significant factor in surgical mistakes.  The authors of the report note,

“Reduction and elimination of activities and distractions, such as excess traffic in the OR and cellphones, permits the OR team to focus on the patient and the task at hand.”

Are You the Victim of a Surgical Error?

There is no doubt that there are risks during any surgery.  One of those risks, however, should not be carelessness or distraction on the part of the surgeon or operating room team.  Sadly, the Coverys report suggests that many surgery errors may be preventable.  Surgeons and operating room staff must eliminate distractions and perform their duties within the standards of care.

Failure to adhere to the standards of care is a violation of your rights as a patient.  If you suffer harm as a result, you should speak to a Houston medical malpractice attorney about your rights and possible options to pursue compensation.  At, we regularly work with clients who are battling the devastating consequences of medical negligence.  We help victims who are suffering due to the negligent behavior of doctors, surgeons, nurses and other healthcare staff.

If you have concerns about care you have received or the outcome of a surgical procedure, we can help.  At, our team of legal and medical professionals will review your situation and help you determine if you have an actionable medical malpractice claim.  To get started, request a free consultation by calling us at 877-887-4850.  You can also email us via our confidential online form.


Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She works alongside the team at to provide readers with up-to-date information relevant to the healthcare and legal industries.

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