Surgical Errors Called “Never Events” Happen Daily

A review of national medical malpractice claims by John Hopkins patient safety researchers has revealed some stunning information. Researchers estimate that 80,000 surgical errors called “never events” occurred in the United States between 1990 and 2010. That means that some 4,000 “never events” occur every year. If that’s the case, why do surgeons call them “never events?” They earn the name because they should never happen — not because they never do happen.

What Are Never Events?

“Never events” are not surgical complications or the result of risks inherent to surgery. They are surgical mistakes that are completely avoidable, yet happen anyway. Researchers estimated the following rates for these surgical mishaps:

  • A sponge or towel is left inside a patient’s body 39 times per week.
  • The wrong procedure is performed 20 times per week.
  • The wrong body site is operated on 20 times per week.

Procedures and checklists are in place to help surgeons avoid these human errors, including timeouts before surgery to match the patient with the procedure, body site marking before the patient goes under anesthesia and sponge and towel counts before and after surgery to ensure that nothing has been left behind. All surgeons know the potential for these mistakes, and all agree that they should never happen. And yet they still do.

Of the 9,744 medical malpractice claims reported in the National Practitioner Data Bank over the last 20 years involving these events, patients experienced various degrees of harm.

  • 59.2% had temporary injury.
  • 32.9% had permanent injury.
  • 6.6% died.

Never Events and Medical Malpractice

In order to qualify as medical malpractice under Washington State Law, one of three criteria must be met:

  • Injury resulted from the failure of a health provider to follow the accepted standard of care.
  • A health provider promised the patient that the injury suffered would not occur.
  • Injury resulted from health care to which the patient did not consent.

Surgical “never events” fulfill the first criteria. Injury is a certain outcome of these errors and surgeons agree that they should never happen. When they do occur, it is a clear violation of the standard of care due to negligence.

Were You a Never Event Victim?

If you or someone you loved was injured or if you have lost a loved one because of a surgical error, please contact us immediately. You may be eligible for compensation to help deal with your injuries or loss. We provide a free consolation with one of our experienced attorneys, during which we will discuss your legal options.