Is a Medical Procedure or Surgical Complication Malpractice?

Posted on: 09-21-2021
South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawyer | Surgical Complication Attorney | Steinberg Law Firm

Is a Medical Procedure or Surgical Complication Malpractice?

Every year, millions of inpatient surgeries are performed in the United States. Add to that number the medical procedures that are not inpatient procedures, and the true potential for complications on any given day is significant. However, not every complication following a medical procedure is medical malpractice on the part of the healthcare provider who performed it. 

Medical malpractice is the term used to describe the negligence of doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. It occurs when a healthcare professional does not provide appropriate treatment, fails to take the correct action, or provides substandard care, causing injury or death to a patient. It typically involves a medical error such as a missed diagnosis, incorrect diagnosis, medication, surgical, or aftercare mistake. 

South Carolina medical malpractice claims involve the intersection of law and medicine, and they are some of the most complex areas of personal injury law. They are also some of the most expensive cases to pursue. Having an attorney who understands both the healthcare and legal sides of a case can be an advantage. Steinberg Law Firm attorney Catie D. Meehan is also a Registered Nurse (RN). She brings her unique experience of practicing in the healthcare field to advocate for personal injury and medical malpractice victims. 

“Having cared for patients in a medical setting, I am aware of the complications that can arise following medical or surgical procedures. However, not every complication equates to a medical malpractice claim. There are specific legal guidelines that determine what constitutes medical malpractice. Even if a complication arises, that is rare and is not one the doctor discussed with a patient before a procedure, that does not automatically mean that rare complication signifies medical malpractice. If you suspect you have been the victim of medical malpractice, or even if you just want to know whether your complication rises to a malpractice claim, we are here to help,” Meehan said. 

Some Surgical Complications Are Not Equal to Medical Malpractice

To succeed in bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit, there must be proof of certain elements or factors. While every case is different, the essential elements of a South Carolina medical malpractice claim are:


When phrased like this, medical malpractice cases seem simple. However, each element can present issues for patients attempting to hold a physician accountable for an adverse outcome.

The “duty” element of a medical malpractice claim is often easily established. As long as there is a doctor-patient relationship, the physician will owe the patient a duty of care. However, determining the extent of a healthcare professional’s duty to a patient is more complicated. Typically, a doctor owes a patient a duty to render care equal to what another doctor with similar experience would provide in the same situation.

The “breach” element is much harder to establish, and determining whether a doctor breached their duty of care is often the focus of the litigation. The question comes down to whether the doctor did what they were supposed to. In the context of a medical procedure or surgery, the following are examples of situations that have been held to be a breach of a doctor’s duty of care:

Operating on the wrong body part
Leaving a foreign object in a patient’s body following surgery

Just because a patient suffers unexpected injuries during a procedure does not mean the doctor was negligent. For example, if a patient begins hemorrhaging during surgery, there may not have been anything the surgeon could have done to prevent it. If so, the surgeon will not have breached the duty of care owed to the patient. 

Similarly, if a patient develops an infection after a medical procedure, it does not necessarily mean the doctor was negligent. For example, if the surgeon left a sponge inside the patient’s body and the sponge was the source of the infection, the surgeon would likely have violated the duty of care. However, in many cases, it can be almost impossible to pinpoint the source of general post-surgical infections. Thus, in cases of post-operative infection, the surgeon may not have violated the duty of care.

Finally, medical malpractice cases involving a misdiagnosis also present challenges for patients. If a doctor conducted the necessary tests and came to a reasoned conclusion based on the available information, they would have satisfied their obligation to provide reasonable medical care. However, if a doctor failed to order a specific test that other doctors would have ordered or misread the test results, it may be seen as a breach of the doctor’s duty of care.

The “causation” element involves showing that the harm suffered was caused by the doctor breaching their duty of care. Medical malpractice lawsuits are meant to compensate patients for actual damages and losses they suffered because of a medical mistake. 

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, you may be entitled to economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical bills, lost income, loss of future earning capacity, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of support and companionship, and emotional and psychological injuries. 

Proving a medical malpractice case can be very challenging and typically requires one or more expert witnesses. An expert witness can help prove a patient’s case by explaining to the judge or jury what the doctor did versus what other doctors in a similar situation would have done.

Contact an Experienced South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Immediate Assistance

If you recently suffered a serious injury after a medical procedure, it may have been due to medical malpractice. At the Steinberg Law Firm, we have assembled a dedicated team of medical malpractice lawyers to assist our clients with these complex cases. Attorney Catie D. Meehan, in addition to her J.D., also has a B.S. in Nursing and is on the Alumni Board of the Charleston School of Law and the MUSC College of Nursing Board. Attorney Meehan and the other lawyers at the Steinberg Law Firm use their advanced knowledge of law and medicine to effectively advocate on behalf of our many clients. This experience also allows our attorneys to understand better what you are going through and how best to tailor our representation to fit your unique needs. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 843-720-2800. You can also reach us through our online form. We represent clients in Charleston, Goose Creek, Summerville, and the surrounding areas.

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