The inherent risks that come along with any colon surgery are vast, and accidents that should not lead to malpractice claims happen daily. However, there are also reasons that someone should suspect medical malpractice after a colon surgery that goes awry. To be sure if someone who fell ill or eventually died after colon surgery was due to malpractice, ask an experienced medical malpractice attorney to look into the facts. When the facts of the case do not add up, malpractice may be the reason why.
Why Would a Patient Need Colon Surgery?
There are quite a few different situations that warrant colon surgery. It could be something simple like a polyp, which most people develop and are harmless. It could be part of the intestine or colon is injured and requires repairs. However, the most common reason people have colon surgery is to remove cells or tumors that are precancerous or are already cancerous.
To see if a patient has colon cancer, doctors have a few different options at their disposal. By far, the most commonly used tool to detect colon cancer is a colonoscopy. It is used to screen for colon cancer before someone even has symptoms. This small tube has a camera which allows the doctor to see the present condition inside the colon. That way, the doctor can see if anything looks off. The earlier colon cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. The problem is that most colon cancers do not have regular symptoms until they are in a more advanced stage.
For most people, screenings for colon cancer start somewhere between 40 and 50 years of age. However, if someone has a family history of cancer, especially colon cancer, they can be tested at nearly any age. When a doctor goes into the colon using any tool, there is a chance for discomfort. However, it usually is not overly painful. If a procedure is painful during a simple screening, this is usually a sign that something has gone wrong.
During the procedure or the testing that follows the procedure, a doctor may find a reason to suspect an issue within the colon or lower part of the large intestine. If this is the case, surgery is typically the first option so that the irregular area can be removed. The problem is, due to where the surgery is taking place, the risk of side effects is much higher than in traditional surgeries.
Risks During Colon Surgery
The number one risk during colon surgery is an infection. Due to the waste that is moving through the area, any number of microbes, viruses, or bacteria could make their way to the surgical site and cause an infection. Plus, should anything in the area leak following surgery, the risk of infecting the entire body is there, as well. Here are additional risks that could happen because of colon surgery:
- Excessive bleeding or hemorrhaging in the body or colon
- An abscess that fills with pus or bursts, filling other parts of the body with pus
- Wound healing problems that lead to chronic pain and other issues
- Obstruction of the bowel
- Nerve damage in or around the colon from an incision
- Herniated colon or intestine
- Perforation of the large intestine or the colon
- Injury to the bladder during surgery
- Pneumonia from the surgery that puts a strain on the lungs
- Scar tissue can build up during healing that leads to an obstructed colon
Every surgery is risky, but when doing surgery in an area of the body where waste is eliminated, the blood is exposed to far more pathogens than most surgical procedures do. This increases the potential risk for the patient of something going wrong.
Do All Colon Surgeries Have Problems?
Not all colon surgeries have issues once the surgery is done. When the surgery is successful, the patient can go home in 2-4 days, resuming a normal lifestyle after approximately six weeks. However, if the patient is not careful during his or her recovery, it could cause a problem with the body’s ability to heal.
After colon surgery, most doctors will put the patient on a diet that is low in fiber until the area has healed up. This way, nothing moves through the colon too quickly, causing harm. There will also be a limit on what the person can lift and how much activity the patient should get each day. As time goes by, the restrictions loosen to some degree. If the patient does not follow these aftercare instructions, he or she could rip open stitches or staples, leading to problems after the surgery.
When Do Problems With Colon Surgery Cross Over Into Medical Malpractice?
A surgery that is performed correctly but did not give the desired results or a patient who did not follow the doctor’s instructions should not result in malpractice cases. These are mistakes, but not negligence. In order to take a malpractice case to court, there must be some type of negligence involved. This can be incredibly difficult to prove when dealing with an area of the body prone to infection.
For a medical malpractice lawsuit, the judge and jury need to have four criteria met. If the plaintiff can satisfy those four criteria utilizing evidence, then the chances of getting damages for the injury sustained increase tremendously. The four criteria are:
- Connection: The court is going to need to see that the plaintiff and the accused were connected in some way prior to the injury. This is something most plaintiffs find easy to prove since they are often at a doctor’s office or seen by the attending doctor before surgery.
- Standard of care: All doctors have a duty to care for their patients in a specific way, which is reasonable and fair. Patients can reasonably expect this type of care when they go in to be seen. This is referred to as the standard of care. It is the care that can and should be expected.
- Care that never met the standard: The plaintiff has to show then how the care that he or she received did not live up to that standard of care. It should show that it was reasonable to expect something in specific, and that specific care was not provided.
- Cause: The court will finally want to see that the accused caused the injury that the plaintiff is seeking damages for. There needs to be evidence that something the accused did or neglected to do led to the injury. If it was negligence, it must be proven that the care provided was not being up to standard.
Once these items can be proven, the judge and jury can decide if there should be any compensation for the injuries. Most of the time, when the judge and jury see that these four criteria are met by evidence, damages are on the horizon.
Damages for an Injured Party
There are two main types of damages that the plaintiff could go after. They include non-economic damages that cover the emotions that went with the injury and monetary damages that go with the financial strain from the injury. Each state is unique in what it will allow during medical malpractice cases, so asking an experienced attorney to give an estimate is the best route.
Non-economic damages cover problems like:
- The pain and suffering the plaintiff went through because of the injury
- Money to cover any losses the plaintiff feels, such as companionship, quality of life, consortium, and the ability to go about life the way he or she once did
- Anguish or stress over the injury
- Funeral expenses if the plaintiff died and a loved one filed the claim
Monetary damages cover financial strains, including:
- All medical expenses related to the injury, including hospital stays, procedure costs, copays for prescriptions, medical equipment costs, and travel expenses to get to the hospital or clinic for additional procedures related to healing
- Wages that the plaintiff is not able to earn while healing from the injury
- Wages to cover the future money that the plaintiff can no longer earn if he or she is not able to return to his or her previous job
- Future medical expenses to facilitate more healing after the injury
To get the most compensation possible, it is best to have a law firm or attorney handle the case. Those with personal injury experience know how to behave in a courtroom more effectively than people without that experience or training.
What Constitutes Malpractice Following Colon Surgery?
Many issues can lead to malpractice. It takes either negligence or oversight that should not have happened to become malpractice. Some examples include:
- Surgical errors where the colon was perforated or not sealed up tightly when stitching or stapling the area
- Leaving surgical equipment behind when the operation was complete
- Ignoring a test result that would have changed or stopped the procedure from happening
- Delaying a diagnosis because of error or oversight
- Performing the wrong surgical procedure for the diagnosed ailment
- Harming the patient with medical equipment before, during, or after the colon surgery
- Not providing the patient with aftercare instructions that would have alleviated the patient injuring him or herself in the days or weeks following surgery
- Ignoring symptoms that a patient is presenting because they do not match the initial diagnosis
- Failing to repair an obvious issue during surgery
- Not revealing to the patient all of the risks that come with colon surgery prior to the surgery
- Ignoring crashing vital signs during the colon surgery that lead to a decline in the patient’s condition or the patient’s death
- Administering the wrong anesthesia or medication that was a known allergy
Filing a Case of Medical Malpractice
Since the statutes of each state vary, it is best to allow experienced medical malpractice lawyers to file the claim. They have a better understanding of what evidence each injury case will need and how to investigate the injury without people trying to hide what happened. Attorneys who have experience can be the best allies since they understand how to communicate with the court effectively, how to negotiate settlements, and how to present a case without coming across as overly emotional – something that most plaintiffs struggle to do.
It is very important that anyone considering a malpractice claim speak with several attorneys prior to hiring one. By utilizing the free consultation most attorneys offer, the plaintiff can get a good feel for how the attorney operates. If the attorney comes across as caring and trustworthy, the plaintiff may feel like they may get along as the case wears on. Here are a few questions that can help make the initial phone call go a little easier:
- How much specific experience does the attorney have with medical malpractice claims?
- Is medical malpractice the attorney’s main area of practice, or is it a secondary area?
- What is the attorney’s opinion about the case based on the early evidence and facts of the incident?
- Does the attorney believe the case would lead to compensation, either by guilty verdict and awards or by settlement? What ballpark does the attorney believe a settlement could bring in?
- What type of expense is the plaintiff going to expect to get the case started?
- How close to the end of the statute of limitations is the current case, and what needs to be done to file before it expires?
The answers to these questions should help the plaintiff narrow down an attorney that he or she feels comfortable working with. From there, it all becomes about investigating what happened and gathering evidence to bring to court.
During all colon surgeries, there is a risk that something could go wrong. This is surgery in one of the most bacteria-filled areas of the body. Mistakes may happen. However, if a mistake does happen, the surgeon needs to correct the mistake immediately and provide proper follow-up care. If these things do not happen, the next step is to file a claim for malpractice. Patients should not have to try and manage an injury that a medical professional caused on their own. That is what malpractice laws were created to protect.