The American Association for Justice (AAJ) recently published a list of ways in which our society would be substantially different if we did not have a civil justice system. The civil justice system is basically our whole justice system except for the criminal system. It includes things like medical malpractice cases, nursing home abuse cases, products liability cases, and many other areas of law. So in honor of the AAJ’s efforts to get out the word about the importance of our civil justice system, we are looking in depth at some of the areas of the medical profession that would be wildly different without a civil justice system. These week we are addressing a truly shocking type of surgical malpractice that would go ungoverned without a civil justice system: wrong site surgeries.
How Common are Wrong Site Surgeries?
Wrong site surgeries are one type of medical malpractice that should never happen. If everyone is doing their job correctly, and proper safety procedures are followed, it should be impossible for a surgeon to wind up operating on the wrong part of a person’s body, or even worse, on the wrong person altogether. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. A report by Medscape from just three years ago found that wrong site surgeries happen about forty times a week nationwide.What is an Example of a Wrong Site Surgery?
According to a report by the Des Moines Register, two Iowa surgeons recently admitted to being involved in wrong site surgeries. One of the doctors admitted that he operated on a person’s left ankle last year when he was supposed to be operating on the right ankle. This surgeon did not recognize his error until after he had completed the surgery. The board that licenses physicians fined him $2,500. Another doctor operated on a person’s ring finger instead of on the person’s middle finger. He too was ordered to pay a fine of $2500. Both surgeons were also ordered to come up with a plan to prevent this from happening again in their operating rooms.
What Does the Civil Justice System Do in These Cases?
Notice that all the licensing agency did was fine the doctors and tell them to find a way to make sure it does not happen again. The board did not do anything to make the patients who were subjected to these surgeries whole. Both patients had to undergo further surgeries to put right what the doctors had done to them. And this was not a matter of a simple mistake-it was the kind of mistake that the medical profession acknowledges should never happen. That is why the civil justice system is necessary in these cases. Only through a medical malpractice case can a patient be compensated for his pain and suffering, his missed work, and his further medical bills caused by this sort of error. And the threat of a costly verdict and an increase in malpractice premiums acts as a powerful incentive for doctors to check and double check and make sure that this sort of thing does not happen. If even with this incentive in place it is still happening forty times a week, the number of doctors who would not take necessary precautions without that incentive is frightening to think about.