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Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or health care professional injures a patient through a negligent act or omission. Medical malpractice is also known as medical negligence and can involve an error, mistake, or making the wrong decision based on the situation. Some injuries are caused by failure to point out an error or trying to cover up a problem. 

State personal injury laws allow the victim of a medical error to seek compensation from the negligent doctor or hospital. If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of medical malpractice, contact our experienced medical malpractice law firm for a free consultation. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Types of Medical Errors

Medical malpractice may involve any type of error or omission. Malpractice can be caused by a doctor, health care worker, pharmacist, or hospital. Some of the most common types of medical malpractice include:

Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose

Misdiagnosis is one of the most common causes of medical injuries. Doctors have specialized training, diagnostic tools, and access to other specialists. They are supposed to use their training and education to make a medical diagnosis. When the doctor is not sure about the diagnosis, they are supposed to take steps to rule out multiple possibilities, order tests, or get a consultation from another doctor. When the doctor makes too many assumptions, orders the wrong tests, or is just trying to take shortcuts, it can be disastrous. Diagnostic errors can include: 

  • Failure to diagnose
  • Misdiagnosis 
  • Delayed diagnosis

Failure to diagnose may leave the patient thinking nothing is wrong. This can even happen in cases of cancer. The patient’s symptoms, diagnostic results, imaging, and physical exam results may indicate a possibility of cancer that should be further tested. If the doctor misinterprets that information, it can lead to a failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis. 

Over time, the patient may get worse or their medical conditions could advance to the point where it is too late to do anything or the damage is already done. An unnecessary error could leave the patient with permanent damage, pain, disability, or a fatal diagnosis. 

Misdiagnosis can involve similar problems. A doctor who is distracted, mixes up patients, or simply rushes things that take time may put the patient at risk of serious injury. Treating the patient for the wrong disease may cause unnecessary injury and expensive medical bills. By the time the real diagnosis is made, the patient may have suffered disfigurement, permanent injury, and loss of enjoyment in life. 

Retained Foreign Objects

Retained foreign object errors often surprise patients and the public. It may seem unbelievable that a surgeon would simply misplace a scalpel or fail to account for surgical equipment. A left-behind object in a patient is referred to as “never events,” because it is never supposed to happen. However, studies suggest there are between 4,500 and 6,000 cases of left-behind objects every year. Examples of surgical objects left inside a patient after surgery include: 

  • Needles 
  • Surgical sponges
  • Scalpels
  • Retractors
  • Scissors
  • Towels
  • Clamps
  • Tubes
  • Surgical gloves

Retained foreign objects often cause infections. The body can identify these objects as something that should not be in the body. This can lead to serious infection. Infection that is untreated can spread throughout the body, causing the patient to go into septic shock. After the infection is discovered, the patient may have to have parts of their body removed to get rid of the damage. Retained surgical objects can also cause damage or punctures to internal organs, leading to injury or death. 

Medication Errors

Prescription medication mistakes are another common cause of medical injuries. Patients rely on their doctors to prescribe the right medication at the right rate. Patients also have to trust their pharmacist to give them the right medication and warn them of any potential adverse reactions. When doctors and pharmacists make an error, it can be fatal for the patient. 

Bad handwriting on a doctor’s prescription can be one source of an error. However, even after switching over to online prescriptions, medication errors still occur. Medication errors can include: 

  • Adverse drug combinations
  • Wrong medication
  • Too high or low of dose
  • Prescribing too many times per day
  • Patient mix-ups
  • Monitoring errors
  • Dispensing errors

Emergency Room Errors

Emergency rooms may be the first responders to an emergency medical situation. ER doctors have to act quickly and decisively but that does not give them an excuse when they make fatal mistakes. One of the common sources of emergency room malpractice is a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. 

The patient’s symptoms may be pointing to multiple possible health conditions and doctors should use their resources, training, and education to diagnose the patient. Failure to diagnose a patient’s serious medical emergency can increase the risk of permanent injury or death. 

Another common problem in emergency rooms is premature discharge. Patients should not be sent home until the doctor is sure they are stable. Sending a patient home too early may increase the risk of serious injury or death. 

Anesthesia Errors

Many patients don’t give a second thought about getting anesthesia during a medical procedure. However, it is still a risky proposition and anesthesiologists who do not take their job seriously are putting patients at risk. Anesthesia generally uses a combination of drugs to make a patient immobile and unaware of pain. However, too much anesthesia can put someone over the edge of cardiac arrest. 

Anesthesia errors can include intubation injuries, overmedication, and failure to monitor patient vital signs. When a patient is unable to breathe, a tube may be inserted into their airway to maintain oxygen levels. Intubation may be used during surgery, when a patient is under anesthesia, or in emergency medical situations. When intubation is done improperly, it can cause the patient to suffocate. 

Plastic Surgery Malpractice

Cosmetic surgery is very common and more people than ever are getting face lifts, breast implants, and liposuction. Many plastic surgery clinics look like spas. Patients feel at ease undergoing serious surgery, especially when the doctor downplays the risk of harm. Any surgery can be dangerous and the doctor must inform patients about the risks of the procedure. 

Many patients who are the victims of plastic surgery malpractice never come forward to file a claim against the doctor. Patients may be left with pain, disfigurement, scarring, and serious infections. However, the patients feel ashamed of their appearance or guilty for deciding to undergo plastic surgery. Coming forward will not only help victims recover compensation for their disfigurement but also help other patients avoid a similar fate.

Hand-Off Errors

Doctors in hospitals and other care facilities often have to hand off patients to another doctor. The hand-off procedure is incredibly important to let the new doctor know what is happening to the patients and which patients need special care. Doctors may be overworked and hospitals are understaffed. Forgetting to mention the results of a test, a change in patient status, or a reaction to medication can be fatal for patients. 

Handwriting and Transcription Errors

It is a common joke that doctors have terrible handwriting but an illegible note can be dangerous for patients. Many drugs have common names that could easily be misread by a pharmacist. Number errors could cause a doctor to over or under-medicate a patient. Common abbreviations are also a problem when they could have more than one interpretation. 

Transcription of medical notes and records is often done by computer or overseas. This can cause problems for patients when the computer makes an error or someone misinterprets a doctor’s writing to alter the patient’s record. 

Understaffing and Improper Training

Doctors are not the only ones responsible for medical errors. Hospitals play a key role in patient care. Unfortunately, many hospitals, nursing homes, and medical facilities put profits over patient wellbeing. Patients in a clinic or hospital need to be attended to by a team of doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants. When health care workers have more patients than they can handle, it impacts patient care. Failure to properly train staff and failure to adequately staff a medical facility can lead to serious injury. 

Lack of Informed Consent

Patients need to understand the risks and benefits of any medical procedure. If they do not know what is at risk, how can they consent to the treatment? Informed consent includes notifying the patient of: 

  1. The condition being treated;
  2. The nature and character of the proposed treatment;
  3. The anticipated results from the procedure;
  4. Alternative treatments; and
  5. The serious risks and complications.

Birth Injury Malpractice

Birth injuries are some of the most tragic types of malpractice cases. When a newborn baby is permanently injured, their parents and the victim will have to live with the damage for a lifetime. Babies are at their most vulnerable during pregnancy and labor. During delivery, the baby transitions from getting oxygen from the mother to breathing outside air. 

Oxygen is extremely important to brain and organ function. Any delay in oxygenation can cause serious brain damage or cell damage. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a permanent brain injury caused by the lack of oxygen. Like other brain injuries, this can lead to physical disability and mental disability. Depending on the severity of the injury, the child may be left completely disabled. 

Some brain damage and head trauma may not be known to the parent at the time. When a baby is young, they may appear normal and it is only later that there are signs of possible damage. Developmental delays or the baby missing developmental milestones may be the first sign that the baby was injured during delivery. It can take years before the extent of the damage is finally understood. 


Birth complications can develop during delivery and it is important for a doctor to respond properly. When a doctor delays treatment or uses the wrong interventions, it can cause serious injury to the mother and baby. For the mother, improper delivery can cause hemorrhage or infection. For the baby, it can cause hypoxia, birth injuries from extraction devices, or shoulder dystocia.

Prenatal Care Malpractice

Some medical injuries for children are caused before the baby is even born. Over the period of the mother’s pregnancy, the mother may receive a lot of medical care. This includes testing, monitoring, advising the parents, and hearing their concerns. Unfortunately, many doctors and hospitals are more focused on profit than patient care. The wrong treatment during pregnancy can cause serious injury or death to the mother or baby. Prenatal malpractice may involve: 

Surgical Errors

Negligent treatment during surgery is the cause of many malpractice injuries in Chicago. Unexpected complications, unwarned of results, pain, or infections after a surgery may have been caused by medical malpractice by the doctors, hospitals, nurses, or anesthesiologists. Some of the most common surgical errors include:

Telemedicine Errors

Telemedicine malpractice is a growing area of concern. The use of telemedicine has been growing over the years and exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdowns, telemedicine was one of the safest ways to provide patient care. However, hospitals also use telemedicine to cut costs. Improper telemedicine protocols can put patients at risk of injury because of communication problems, training errors, or failure to protect patient privacy. 

Common Medical Injury Statistics

Another way to classify a malpractice type is as a preventable adverse event (PAE). A PAE is defined as “the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim.” These are further classified as errors of omission (failing to take action) or errors of commission (taking the wrong action). 

PAEs can be evaluated as minor errors or major errors. Minor errors can still be serious but generally lead to prolonged treatment or additional discomfort. Major errors are those that cause serious disability or death. 

Which medical malpractice errors are the most common. Unfortunately, statistics show the total number of deadly medical errors is much higher than you might think. According to research by Johns Hopkins Medicine, more than 250,000 deaths per year are due to medical errors in the U.S. This makes it the 3rd leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. 

The number of serious injuries caused by medical errors is even higher. The actual numbers of medical errors may be under-reported because some doctors don’t report their mistakes and some patients never knew their pain or complications were caused by a doctor’s error. Other errors may not be discovered for months or years later. In some states, finding out about an error too late means the injury victim can’t file a claim for damages.

Attorneys for Medical Malpractice Cases

A medical injury is too serious to ignore. Getting help sooner rather than later can help improve your outcome. A successful settlement can help you recover damages to pay for your medical bills and suffering. Coming forward can also help other victims who may be at risk of further injury in the future. 

At Gilman & Bedigian, our experienced trial lawyers have helped our clients and their families recover millions of dollars in compensation after medical mistake injuries. We have years of experience serving injury victims and their families. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.

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