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Surgical “Never Events”


Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Kansas City

Surgical “never events” should not happen, but they occur every day. Going through a surgical procedure in Clay County or Jackson County can be frightening for patients, and they must summon up the courage to put their trust in their surgeon and his team. However, surgical errors can happen through oversight, a simple mistake, or obvious negligence, leaving patients with worsened conditions, new medical issues, and permanent pain and suffering.

Some mistakes are relatively simple and are the kinds of errors that, plainly, should not happen because they are preventable. These errors are referred to as “never events.”

How Common Are Surgical Never Events?

A Johns Hopkins University research study reveals that there are at least 4,000 of these types of surgical errors occurring in the United States every year. Medical News Today reports that every week wrong site surgeries, wrong types of surgeries, and retained sponges and surgical instruments occur on an average of 20 to 39 times. In all, between the years of 1990 and 2010, over 80,000 never events happened.

In addition to the rate of these events occurring, there are also the consequences to think about. According to this study there were medical malpractice settlements issued for 9,744 victims during the 20-year period. The monetary awards, which amounted to over $1.3 billion, paid for temporary injuries, permanent injuries, and the death of victims.

Types of Never Events

  • Incorrect body part: When the wrong body part is operated on. An example would be if a patient was scheduled to have his right arm amputated but the surgeon amputates his left arm.
  • Wrong person: When the operation is done on the wrong patient. Sometimes, staff members prepare multiple patients for surgery at once and accidentally place the wrong patient in the operating room.
  • Wrong surgery: When a patient gets the wrong surgery. For example, inaccurately entered data could indicate that a patient needs knee surgery, when it’s actually his elbow that needs surgery.
  • Anesthesia-related: Situations where patients die from excessive anesthesia are more common than you think. Another anesthesia-related never event is the anesthesiologist administering an anesthetic that a patient is allergic to.
  • Contamination: When non-sterile objects come in contact with and injure a patient. An example would be exposing a patient to a contaminated tool that leads to a severe infection.
  • Leaving an object in a patient: For example, a surgeon leaves a sponge behind in a patient’s body. Generally, it can be months or even years before the error is discovered and by then, the sponge has become enmeshed in the tissue around it. Often, the only way to fix the problem is by going in and removing it and a good portion of whatever is around it.

The Cost of Retained Sponges

According to USA Today, retained sponges alone deliver serious consequences for patients, which include:

  • Loss of body parts
  • Permanent pain
  • Digestive dysfunctions
  • Multiple surgeries
  • Physical, mental, and emotional scars
  • Death

Some hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic, have employed the help of a sponge-tracking technology after finding that manual sponge counts were not accurate. The sponges contain a small chip that sends an alert to notify surgical staff that it is still in the body. Since the installation of the system, not one patient has been the victim of a retained sponge. Despite the success of sponge-tracking technologies, most hospitals in the U.S. do not use them. Many cite budget issues, but the technology only adds $10 to the cost of each surgery. Currently, less than 600 hospitals use such a system.

Changes to Statute of Limitations in Never Events

In Missouri, the statute of limitations for cases of medical malpractice is two years, meaning claims must be brought within two years of the date that the medical negligence occurred. There are five exceptions to the two-year limit under the law, including:

  • Leaving a foreign object: When a victim’s claim is the result of a foreign object being left in his body following surgery, the two-year statute of limitations begins when the patient becomes aware of the existence of the object.
  • Failing to inform: When the victim’s claim is the result of a medical provider’s failure to properly inform (such as not communicating the results of testing), the two-year limit begins once the patient realizes that the failure occurred.
  • Ongoing care: In situations where a lengthy period of care exists, the two-year limitation begins on the last day the victim was treated by the medical professional.
  • A minor involved: The statute of limitations for children in claims of malpractice generally extends to their eighteenth birthday; however, some tort reform in 2005 made the limitation 10 years from the date the negligent act occurred, or within two years of the child’s eighteenth birthday.
  • Actions of wrongful death: In wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations is three years from the patient’s date of death.

Law Firm for Victims of Medical Malpractice in Western Missouri

At Norton & Spencer, P.C., our Kansas City medical malpractice attorneys take cases on a contingency fee basis. That means that you pay nothing unless we get you compensation for your injuries. You only have a limited amount of time in which to file a claim, so contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-251-5423.

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