There are approximately 2700 reported cases in the United States annually of surgery being performed at the wrong site. There are also many near misses where someone made the correction at the last moment before an incision was made! As you might expect, this can be grounds for a medical negligence lawsuit. Whenever a patient undergoes surgery of any kind, they are expected to accept some inherent risks of things that might go wrong despite all of the correct procedures being followed. Medical negligence happens when risks that should have been avoidable happen. A wrong surgery site is one of the few things in medicine that is considered a 'never event' because it is something that should never happen. This is because a universal protocol was established more than 14 years ago to prevent this from happening. If those protocols are followed, it should be impossible to make this mistake; therefore, doing so is a clear case of medical negligence.

What Is Wrong Site Surgery?

Wrong Site Surgery is an umbrella term that covers a range of surgical errors where surgery is performed on the wrong body part, the wrong side of the body, the wrong area of the correct body part, or even on the wrong patient! A recent study showed that almost all medical specialties are guilty of wrong-site surgery, but it is more prevalent in some than in others:

  • 41% Orthopedics & Podiatric Surgery
  • 20% General Surgery
  • 14% Neurosurgery
  • 11% Urology
  • 14% Other Specialties (including dental, cardiovascular, ear nose & throat, and ophthalmologic surgery)

Preventing Wrong Site Surgery

As mentioned above, there is a universal protocol that the World Health Organization launched in 2008 that is designed to prevent wrong-site surgery. The mandatory global patient safety challenge is known as Safe Surgery Saves Lives and covers a variety of protocols designed to make all surgical procedures as safe as possible. Failure to adhere to the guidelines means that your surgical team is guilty of medical negligence as wrong site surgery and other errors could have been prevented had the protocol been followed appropriately. A detailed 3 part surgical safety checklist should be completed for every surgical procedure. You could have grounds for a medical negligence lawsuit if this is not completed.

The three sections of the checklist include the following:

  • Before Induction of Anaesthesia
  • Before Skin Incision
  • Before the Patient Leaves the Operating Room

Some of the items on the checklist include confirming the patient's identity, the procedure they are having, and the surgery site. It also includes obtaining consent from the patient and marking the incision site if appropriate. Other risk assessment checks should also be made before anesthesia to avoid unnecessary risks. Before the incision, the surgeon would verbally confirm with the rest of the team that they have the correct patient, procedure, and surgical site.

What to Do If It Happens to You

Now that we have explained what wrong site surgery is and the procedures that are in place to stop it from happening, the next question is 'what do I do if it happens anyway"? Doctors are required to inform a patient of any surgical error within 24 hours of it happening. They should explain the mistake and assume responsibility. However, this only sometimes happens, especially if the doctor knows they are likely facing a medical negligence lawsuit.

If you believe that you or a loved one is a victim of wrong-site surgery, you must talk to a medical negligence lawyer as soon as possible after the surgery. If necessary, you should seek medical attention to rectify the mistake, preferably at a different hospital. Your medical negligence attorney will obtain your hospital and medical records as evidence for your lawsuit. In the case of wrong-site surgery, proving negligence is usually relatively straightforward; there is usually no denying that the wrong surgery was performed! However, where things can get tricky is in determining who is liable for the error. There could be miscommunication somewhere along the line, someone could have marked the wrong site, or the patient could have been assigned another patient's id. Whatever resulted in the mistake, your medical negligence lawyer will examine all available evidence and attempt to draw an appropriate conclusion.


Butler, Vines and Babb is a leading law firm in Knoxville, TN, with extensive litigation experience in Medical Malpractice LawBirth Injury LawTrucking Accident LawPersonal Injury Law, and Business Law. Contact us today at or call 865-637-3531.

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