Liability for Wrong Site Surgery

Who Is Liable When a Surgeon Performs Surgery on the Wrong Body Part?

Performing surgery on the wrong body part, known as wrong site surgery, is an all-too-common and entirely preventable form of medical malpractice. Whether it’s performing surgery on the right hand or foot when it should have been the left, performing surgery on the wrong body part, or even performing a procedure on the wrong patient, wrong site surgery is entirely avoidable.

Wrong site surgery is referred to as a “never event” because it shouldn’t occur. Ever.

When wrong site surgery does occur it’s often because of underlying systemic safety problems at the hospital.

Sadly, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), as many as 50 wrong site surgeries occur every week in United States hospitals. Seventy-six percent of these were surgeries performed on the wrong body part, while the remaining 24% were split between performing the wrong procedure and operating on the wrong person.

While proving that wrong site surgery occurred is fairly straightforward, it can be difficult to identify who exactly was responsible for the wrong site surgery. This is just one reason that it’s important to hire a skilled Ohio medical malpractice attorney to handle your wrong site surgery case.

Res Ipsa Loquitor Establishes That Someone Was Negligent for Wrong Site Surgery

There is an important legal doctrine called res ipsa loquitor that often comes into play in wrong site surgery.

Res ipsa loquitor is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself” and means that the injury could not have occurred unless someone was negligent. In the context of a case of wrong site surgery, the key is proving who.

Who Is Liable for Wrong Site Surgery?

Wrong site surgery cases often involve more than just the physician who performed the surgery. There are numerous medical teams that could have had a hand in the procedure, including the surgical team, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other members of the hospital staff. The key to winning a wrong site surgery case is proving which one or ones were negligent.

Whether the individual surgeon, members of the surgical team, or the entire hospital is liable for wrong site surgery depends, of course, on the individual circumstances of each case. For example, in some cases surgeons are not employees of the hospital, but function as independent contractors who simply use the hospital to perform the procedure.

In others, the hospital will be liable, either because the surgeon is an employee of the hospital, because of an agency relationship between the surgeon and the hospital, or because a member of the surgical team who was employed by the hospital committed the error.

A Hospital Should Have Protocols to Prevent Wrong Site Surgery

Any surgical procedure has “universal protocols” that should be followed. These protocols include a pre-procedure verification in which multiple medical professionals verify the identity of the patient, that the correct records are in the operating room and completed properly, and that the surgical site is correctly marked and confirmed.

The surgical site should be marked while the patient is awake and lucid before the procedure is performed. The patient should mark the site using clear, consistent, and unambiguous markings, and in the presence of one or more medical professionals. These systems create double and triple checks, all intended to eliminate the occurrence of a wrong site surgery.

Consequences of Wrong Site Surgery

Wrong site surgery can lead to a wide range of consequences, sometimes the least of which is that the patient will need to undergo a second surgery on the correct body part.

If a patient was supposed to have a kidney removed and the doctor removed the wrong one, the patient would be left without a functioning kidney, which could be devastating. Likewise, if a patient was to have the left foot amputated and the surgeon accidentally removed the right foot, this, too, would have a profound impact on the person’s quality of life.

Victim of Wrong Site Surgery? Don’t Delay – Contact Robenalt Law Today

If you or someone you care about suffered a wrong site surgery that resulted in infection, expensive additional surgeries, or the need for additional medical care, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. But don’t delay. There are strict time limits that apply to medical malpractice cases. Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Robenalt Law today to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case. Call us at 216-223-7573, complete our online form, or email

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing doctors and hospitals at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 20 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of those injured by negligent health care providers.

Categories: Medical Malpractice