Types of Medical Negligence

There are many different types of medical negligence, and no two cases are ever the same. Given the complex nature of the practice of medicine, it is no surprise that even the smallest mistake by a doctor can have life-altering (even life-ending) effects on his or her patients.

Medical negligence can take place in any medical situation, from a visit to the dentist, an emergency room situation, a regular health check up, or a high risk surgical procedure. Below are some of the more common categories of medical negligence.


The first step after admittance to a hospital, medical clinic, emergency room, dental office or any other professional medical establishment is diagnosis. Correctly diagnosing symptoms is critical to proving medical care to any patient, however sometimes an error in diagnosis can occur in cases where symptoms may not be readily apparent or telling.

Common types of misdiagnosis include:

  • Failure to Diagnose Cancer
  • Misdiagnosis of Symptoms of Impending Heart Attack
  • Misdiagnosis of Stroke
  • Failure to Recognize DVT and Pulmonary Embolism
  • Misdiagnosis of Diabetes
  • Failure to Recognize Meningitis
  • Failure to Diagnose Appendicitis

If a patient is not treated properly due to a mistake in diagnosis, the doctor may be held liable for any further injury or damages.

Delayed Diagnosis

A delayed diagnosis can be a form of medical negligence if another doctor would have reasonably diagnosed the same condition in a timely fashion. A delay in diagnosis can lead to an undue injury to the patient if the illness or injury is allowed to progress rather than being treated.

Commonly, a diagnosis will not be made in a timely manner due to a doctor having a workload that diminishes his or her capacity to properly administer medical treatment. In these cases the hospital or clinic may even be held liable for any damages resulting from the delay in diagnosis and treatment.

Some of the more serious examples of delayed diagnosis are:

  • Untimely Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease
  • Delay in Diagnosis of Heart Attack
  • Delay in Diagnosis and Treatment of Stroke
  • Delay in Cancer Diagnosis
  • Failure to Timely Diagnose Appendicitis
  • Delay in Diagnosing Internal Trauma Injury

Obviously, any delay in diagnosis and treatment of an illness or injury can reduce the likelihood of recovery for the patient.

Surgical Error

Medical negligence during a surgical procedure can often result in further surgeries, infection and sepsis, internal organ damage, immune system failure and even death. Surgical procedures require an enormous level of skill, and even the slightest mistakes can have profound effects on the patient.

Surgical errors can occur in a variety of forms ranging from wrong site surgery, unintentional lacerations of an internal organ, uncontrolled blood loss, perforation of an organ or a foreign object being left in the patients body.

Unintentional Laceration or Perforation

One of the most dangerous risks in any surgical procedure is that of cutting, lacerating or perforating an artery, organ or vessel. There are several ways a surgeon can make a potentially fatal mistake during an operation.

It is possible to perforate a bowel or vessel which may go unnoticed causing bile to leak into the body cavity. Over time, this can lead to a severe infection and sepsis which can cause septic shock and death.

Other types of surgical negligence can lead to uncontrolled bleeding or organ damage. In the worst cases, internal bleeding or organ failure can cause death.

Wrong Site Surgery

Wrong site surgery is a type of surgical error, usually involving a mis-communication or error in hospital records which leads to a surgeon operating on the wrong organ or external appendage.

In some of the worst cases of wrong site surgeries, patients requiring amputation of an arm or leg will have the wrong one amputated, which results in the loss of both appendages instead of just one.

Foreign Object Left in a Patient

In some cases a patient may begin suffering from symptoms of infection and sepsis days or weeks after a surgical procedure. One of the possible causes could be a foreign object inadvertently left in their body by the surgeon.

Most commonly, gauze or another piece of soft medical wrapping or absorbent material may accidentally be left in the body causing an infection, and potential sepsis and shock.

This type of negligent medical treatment may go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years before its effects begin to manifest themselves, and usually require further surgery. In the worst cases, a patient may suffer serious infection and ultimately die from septic shock.

Unnecessary Surgery

Unnecessary surgery is often related to a misdiagnosis of patient symptoms or a medical decision without proper consideration of other options or risks.

Alternatively, sometimes surgery is chosen over more conventional treatments for their expediency and ease compared to other alternatives. Some of the most common unnecessary surgical procedures include:

  • Pacemaker Implant
  • Coronary Bypass Surgery
  • Cesarean Section
  • Hysterectomy

While there are certainly cases where these surgeries are necessary and can save lives, many times the patient's condition does not warrant such dramatic and invasive procedures.

According to a review by the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, about 20% of all pace maker surgeries are unnecessary and the patients heartbeat fluctuations could be treated with much more conservative treatment.

While recommending an unnecessary surgery is not an act of medical malpractice in and of itself, there are always serious risks in any surgical procedure. If an injury could have been avoided by not having had the surgical procedure, then the decision to order it could be found as negligence and the doctor may be found liable for any damages resulting from the surgical procedure.

Errors in Anesthesia

Anesthesia is an inherently risky part of any major medical operation, and requires a specialist, an anesthesiologist, to administer and monitor the effect on the patient.

Prior to any medical procedure requiring anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will review the patient's medical record, history, prior medications, allergies and time requirements of the operation to determine the best combination of drugs to use.

Anesthesia malpractice can happen either during the pre-operation medical review, or during the procedure itself.

Negligent Anesthesia Preparation

If the anesthesiologist fails to properly review all the patient's medical records, he or she may administer drugs to which the patient is allergic, causing injury or death.

Alternatively, an anesthetic contraindication may be present which means, due to previous medications given the patient, a certain anesthetic agent may pose increased risk of complication and should not be used. If it is used, this type of anesthesia malpractice may lead to the patient's death.

Failure to Monitor Anesthetic Performance

Even if the pre-op work is done correctly, there is potential for negligence should the anesthesiologist not monitor the patient and react in time to and changes in vital signs.

It is even possible for the anesthesiologist to run into logistical problems, such as a lack of available oxygen. If these types of situations are not anticipated during the operation, the patient may lose their life due to medical negligence.

Childbirth Trauma and Labor Malpractice

Childbirth can be an especially difficult event for the new born child, and even worse if not handled appropriately by the doctor and nurses. Instances of medical negligence during childbirth can take place in several ways, including failure to perform a c-section, mishandling of a difficult birth, complications with induced labor, misdiagnosis of newborn medical condition or failure to monitor fetal vital signs.

Medical Negligence and C-Sections

A cesarean section (c-section) is often a requirement to preserve the health of the baby in cases of fetal distress. Commonly the baby will show signs of fetal distress, such as a lack of oxygen to the brain and reduced heart beat, and a c-section must be administered immediately to prevent injury to the fetal brain.

If the medical staff fails to perform the c-section in time, delaying the procedure in hopes of delivering the baby normally, that decision may lead to permanent brain damage to the baby.

Mistreatment of Difficult Birth

During difficult births, the medical staff may have to use methods for forcing the extraction of the child. Usually a combination of forceps and suction will be used to force the child out of it's mother. One of the risks associated with forced extraction is that any improper, or negligent handling of the process can cause permanent injuries to the baby, especially nerve damage such as brachial plexus injury.

Complications with Induced Labor

Many times, doctors and medical staff will attempt to speed up a delivery, or avoid a c-section by inducing labor. Oxytocin (common brand used is called Pitocin) is administered to expedite the delivery of the child, but this drug may have side-effects if not monitored carefully.

In cases where fetal distress is detected, such as a prolapsed umbilical cord, it is critical that the administration of pitocin be ceased immediately, and a c-section be considered. In these cases, the doctor has precious few minutes to judge the situation and decide on the best course of action to prevent serious permanent injury to the new born baby.

Negligent Long-Term Treatment

Medical negligence can also occur in subtle ways over the course of a long treatment period. Usually, the negligence will take the form of a failure to follow up with treatment, or a doctors failure to monitor the effect of the treatment properly.

Negligence in Patient Treatment Follow Up

Once a course of treatment for illness or injury has been chosen, it is critical that the doctor follow up regularly to keep abreast of the performance of the treatment. Often times, a nurse will be called upon to help administer treatment, but is not qualified to make medical decisions regarding continuation, cessation or adjustment of the treatment plan.

If the doctor orders a treatment and then allows it to go on without regular follow up, this can be a form of medical negligence. If the treatment causes any side-effects or other damage to the patient, the doctor may be held liable.

Failure to Monitor Treatment Accordingly

Similar to a failure to follow up, a doctor should be aware of the effects of any treatment being administered to his or her patient. This is done by testing and monitoring of patient recovery, vital signs and overall health.

When the doctor fails to monitor the progress of the patient properly, this negligent medical treatment can lead to further injury to the patient.

Medical Negligence in General

While medical negligence can occur in many different ways, the general theme is that a medical professional deviates from the level of care that is required by his or her duty to patients.

Any deviation from the accepted medical standard of care is considered to be medical negligence, and if it causes undue injury to a patient the doctor, staff and/or hospital may be held liable.

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