General surgeons work with doctors in specialized medicine to perform needed operations and are integral to the effective and efficient operation of trauma centers, emergency rooms and intensive care units. They are able to treat a very broad range of medical conditions and equipped to operate on any part of the body, but they may defer to specialized surgeons or act in an assisting role when it is required. The Chicago general surgeon medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC work on behalf of clients who have been seriously injured due to surgical errors or poor procedural methods.
General Surgeons Undergo Extensive Training before Operating
All general surgeons must complete their doctor degree in medicine before they enter a residency program where they can acquire the skills they need to perform surgical procedures while being paid to assist experienced surgeons. The residency programs for general surgeons are nearly twice as long as residencies for other specialties, and this is primarily because of the breadth of conditions and procedures they need to learn about. A typical residency lasts five years.
After completing their residency programs, general surgeons can go on to become board certified as a general surgeon and to pursue additional training in specialized surgery if they so wish. Further areas of specialty can include plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, cardiac surgery and neurosurgery. An average surgeon makes just under $400,000 per year and those with subspecialties have the potential to demand more.
A surgeon’s training is never over. Advances in medical technology often lead to the introduction of new surgical methods and devices. Many patients are electing to forgo traditional procedures in favor of less invasive alternatives such as endoscopic or laparoscopic surgeries. In order to provide the most effective care without compromising patients’ safety, general surgeons meet strict requirements concerning ongoing education and routine recertification.
While it is true that general surgeons are in a position to save lives and impact the medical outcome of the patients they treat, they are also able to cause catastrophic harm when they make mistakes or fail to follow protocol. Surgeons working in emergency rooms and trauma units have great demands on their time and may make brash decisions under stress and fatigue. For this reason, most surgeons maintain insurance to cover their liability in the event a patient is injured due to a medical error or poor decision.
The Duties and Responsibilities of a General Surgeon
Since general surgeons assist in the diagnosis and treatment of a very broad range of diseases and medical conditions, their responsibilities can vary depending on the patient and procedure. Communication with patients and an understanding of their medical histories and needs are of great importance and it allows the surgeon to anticipate possible complications during a procedure and make preparations should those possibilities become realities.
Common responsibilities and duties can include things like the following.
- Wound care — surgeons working in trauma centers or emergency rooms may need to quickly evaluate patients who have suffered serious and life threatening injuries due to accidents, violence or natural disasters. They may be required to treat soft tissue wounds, lacerations, hernias or fractures.
- Pain management — the management of pain is critical to surgical work and surgeons must consider methods of managing pain both during and after a surgical procedure that will not cause any unneeded harm to the patient.
- Fluid management — making sure that patients are properly hydrated and monitoring blood loss are vital to the patient’s continued safety and survival.
- Resuscitation — general surgeons have received extensive training in the revival of patients, whether they have suffered trauma or need to be brought back after being placed under anesthesia for a routine operation.
- Prevention of infection — every operation poses the risk of infection due to the chance that bacteria will enter the body through the open wound. Surgeons need to have a clear plan on how to minimize the risk of an infection as well as how to identify and respond to one that occurs during recovery.
- Extraction of organs or tissue — most gall bladder removals, gastric bypass procedures and tumor extractions are performed by general surgeons. In some cases, they may operate with the assistance of a specialist when removing a cancerous mass or treating a complex condition.
- Evaluation of medical histories — unless the patient has suffered trauma and requires immediate care, a responsible surgeon will collect all of the data he or she needs about the patient prior to performing any surgical procedure. This is to prevent drug interactions, determine the appropriate dosing for anesthetics and to create a response plan to follow in the event of complications.
- Delegation of medical staff responsibilities — the surgeon is accompanied by a team of nurses and medical specialists and is responsible for making certain that every person in the room understands his or her role in the procedure. Without the assistance of the attending staff, most procedures would not be possible.
The Most Common Causes of General Surgeon Malpractice
Our Chicago general surgeon malpractice lawyers have represented clients with a comprehensive range of injuries due to the breadth of the work general surgeons do. Communication between surgeons and their staff is a common denominator in a lot of cases and the confusion that can result from a breakdown in communication may have devastating consequences. Failure to properly communicate can result in performing a procedure on the wrong patient, removal of the wrong organ, incisions in the wrong places and the failure to repair damage before the surgical wound is closed.
Other causes of malpractice can include the following.
- The use of defective or unsterile surgical devices. The preparation of the room is one of the most overlooked steps in an operation and it can result in injuries during the procedures or the spread of infection.
- Cutting major nerves. It can be alarming to learn that surgical errors are common, but those worries are put to rest when learning that most of those errors can be repaired without incident. Nerves are unable to heal like organs and tissue, however, so it is important that surgeons be aware of the presence of nerves and avoid damaging or lacerating them. The resulting injuries can cause loss of sensation, loss of motor function, paralysis or extreme sensitivity and pain.
- Performance fatigue. General surgeons work exhaustive shifts and may be on duty for longer than twelve hours at a time. As tiredness sets in, our judgement, motor abilities and sight can all be impacted, making it more probable for a tired surgeon to make a mistake and then not notice it than one who is awake and alert.
- Perforation of organs. Cutting a major organ can result in internal bleeding, the spread of infection and progressive damage to the perforated organ.
- Leaving surgical tools and materials inside of the body. In some instances, patients quickly notice something is wrong and report extreme levels of pain when an object has been left inside of the body. In other cases, the object may remain there for years until it causes an injury at a later time. The sudden infection or internal bleeding can quickly become life threatening.
- Failure to consider the patient’s medical history and risk factors before forming a treatment plan. Many of the complications that arise during surgical procedures can be easily contained if the surgeon plans for them in advance. Proceeding without a plan or without communicating the details of the plan to attending staff can cause serious injury when the potential complication becomes reality.
- Poor postoperative management of the patient. A surgeon is responsible for doing everything that is needed to facilitate a successful recovery following any surgical procedure. This includes monitoring the patient for signs of infection, checking the wound routinely to make sure it is healing properly and listening to the feedback the patient provides to determine whether everything is okay.
- Delay in diagnosis or treatment. Patients who have suffered from serious trauma need care as soon as they can possibly receive it. The challenge for any emergency room or trauma center surgeon is to be able to act decisively while still accurately diagnosing the injury or condition. While it is unrealistic to expect a surgeon to get things right all of time during emergencies when lacking important information, reasonable measures need to be taken to expedite the process.
Surgical Malpractice Awards
$7,522,032 Verdict; Surgical Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The patient in this surgical negligence case was a little under fifty years old. He had to have his spleen taken out because of a blood disorder. During the operation, the surgeon noted that he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. The doctor did not take remedial action after that finding to correct that issue. After this operation, the patient began to suffer various side effects. They soon found out that he was infected. The plaintiffs later claimed it was because the surgeon made two perforations during the operation. This had the effect of allowing puss to pour out into his abdomen. Over two operations, the original surgeons tried to fix the cuts, but it was too late. Sepsis and organ failure had already taken his life. His wife and child sued the surgeons. They claimed the defendants committed surgical malpractice. They sought damages for their grief, his pain before dying, and the expenses that accrued. The defendants replied that the problem came from the underlying medical issue: cirrhosis of the liver. They denied they did anything wrong. In fact, they offered that they tried to help and gave him the best possible chance to fight the disease. The jury was not impressed. They awarded the plaintiffs more than $7 million. Of that total, $4.5 million was for lost society; $1.5 million was for lost normal life; $500,000 was for pain; and $1,022,032 was for medical bills.
$638,348 Verdict; Surgical Malpractice; Illinois
This case involved a series of consequences that flowed from an original error. The patient was an elderly man in his seventies. He needed his gallbladder removed. The surgeon injured the man’s hepatic duct during the operation, but he did not tell the patient that. He also did not put that he made that mistake in the patient’s notes or file. However, the surgeon did place a duct to collect any bile that may form. Over the following weeks, the plaintiff did not get better. He lost weight, suffered from jaundice, and experienced other side effects. Upon returning to the doctor, the staff decided that he needed follow-up surgery to fix the original procedure. The man decided to sue over these developments. The defendants replied that they gave him informed consent; he did not follow their instructions; and that they operated reasonably. A jury decided to side the plaintiff. They awarded him over $600,000 in damages for medical bills ($133,348), pain ($300,000), lost normal life ($200,000), and disfigurement ($5,000).
$910,743 Verdict; Surgical Malpractice; Will County, Illinois
The patient caught up in this dispute was an 80-year-old man. He was brought to a local hospital. Doctors recommended a cholecystectomy. In that operation, surgeons removed the gallbladder. Here, the patient was relatively healthy before the operation. However, side effects from the surgery had deadly consequences. The surgeon had to convert the operation from a remote to a direct treatment due to scarring. When he did that, he wounded the common bile duct. Another surgeon had to be brought in to fix that. Eventually, they finished up the operation and discharged him. Yet, side effects and pain brought him back to the same hospital. He stayed there for a few months before eventually passing away from sepsis and other complications from the surgery. His family sued the doctors. They claimed the defendants were negligent in their operation. They offered that the doctors should have regrouped instead of forging ahead. Also, they complained that the complications alone were proof of negligence enough to show medical malpractice. The defendants denied all of these claims. They replied that they operated reasonably, what happened was a known risk, and the man’s underlying health was the cause of his death. At the end of the trial, the jury came down for the plaintiff to the tune of over $900,000. This was to compensate the plaintiffs for medical bills, pain, lost normal life, and lost society.
$1,350,000 Settlement; Surgical Malpractice; Chicago, Illinois
The parents and sister of a deceased woman brought this case after their beloved family member passed away during surgery. The woman was forty-five at the time of her death. She had been put on a prescription of Vicodin and Xanax due to anxiety and the effects of a priory surgery to remove a benign tumor on her thyroid. The controversy arose when she went into have a partial thyroidectomy. During the operation, the surgeon decided to do whole thyroidectomy instead. He did not inform anyone about this decision prior to the commencement of the surgery. The result was disastrous. Her vocal cords were paralyzed. This affected her breathing and it touched off her anxiety. Eventually, it took her life. As noted, the family sued the surgeon and the facility where the events took place. They claimed the defendants operated without their consent, were negligent in the course of the surgery, and were responsible for her wrongful death. The defendants did not present their defense at trial. Instead, all sides settled for $1.35 million-the insurance company for the surgeon paid $1 million and the self-insured hospital paid $350,000.
Proficient and Reliable General Surgeon Malpractice Attorneys
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is a leading provider of legal services to those who have been injured or lost loved ones because of other peoples’ negligent actions. Our medical law team has successfully represented thousands of clients and has the knowledge and experience needed to give you the best chance of recovering the compensation you need and deserve. If you believe that your injuries were the result of a surgical error, we can help you determine the appropriate course of action— from investigating the matter to determine where the fault lies to building a solid case on your behalf.
Contact us today to be connected with one of our award winning Chicago general surgeon malpractice attorneys and we will gather all of the information we need to evaluate your case for free. We will review all of your legal options with you so that you understand your rights and what to expect from us and the legal process if you choose to pursue legal action. It is important to us that we be able to provide expert legal services to anyone who needs them regardless of their financial health, so we guarantee that you will never be required to pay for our services upfront and we will never accept payment if we are unable to secure damages on your behalf.