March 20, 2020

A study published on February 25, 2020 by the medical malpractice insurer Coverys entitled “Surgery Risks: Through the Lens of Malpractice Claims” stated: “Each year in the United States, more than 48 million surgical inpatient procedures are performed and more than 35.8 million outpatient surgical procedures occur. The average American, in his or her lifetime, will undergo an estimated nine surgical procedures of varying severity. Coverys data shows that surgery — and the care and decision-making leading up to and following surgery — is the second most common cause for medical malpractice claims overall.”

Despite the fact that almost half of surgeries performed in the United States are done on an outpatient basis, Coverys found an approximate 70/30 split between inpatient and outpatient medical malpractice surgical claims.

Coverys analyzed 2,579 surgery-related closed malpractice claims at Coverys from the five-year period 2014 through 2018. Coverys found that surgery is the second most common cause for medical malpractice claims overall, with surgical claims accounting for 25% of the more than 10,000 closed claims it analyzed.

The vast majority of surgical allegations relate to practitioner performance during the procedure itself (78%). Medical malpractice allegations related to surgeon performance appear in 85% of orthopedic surgery claims compared to an average of 78% across all surgical specialties.

Coverys found that 29% of surgery injuries are permanent, significant, or result in death (9%); 39% of surgical medical malpractice claims allege a claim of failure of technical skill, and 27% of surgical claims allege a failure in clinical judgment and/or communication; 47% of surgical medical malpractice claims from among more than 50 surgical categories involve just three specialties: general Surgery (22%), orthopedic Surgery (17%), and neurosurgery (8%).

Coverys reported that of the three surgery specialties most likely to trigger a medical malpractice claim, general surgery claims had the highest percentage of cases that resulted in death (15%); a retained foreign body rate of 9% for general surgery claims was about twice as high as the rates for orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery claims; general surgery claims had higher-than-average allegations related to patient monitoring; and, 34% of clinical judgment allegations involved patient monitoring versus an average of 25% among all surgical specialties combined.

Wrong site/side surgeries were alleged in 11% of neurosurgery medical malpractice claims versus 2% each for general and orthopedic surgeries. In the case of neurosurgery, the claims most often involve an incorrect identification of the level of the spine.

Coverys found that patients continue to undergo surgeries that are arguably unnecessary (4% of surgical claims) or contraindicated (1% of claims). Coverys found that detailed patient consent forms are not provided in the patient’s preferred language and that procedures and their risks are not fully explained to patients and their families.

Coverys cited a recent study by the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (ACS NSQIP) that found that the unplanned readmission rate in the case of the nearly 500,000 surgical procedures included in the study was 5.7%. The most common cause for unplanned readmission was surgical site infection (19.5% of surgical readmissions). Ileus (or obstruction) and bleeding were the second and third most common reasons for unplanned readmission of surgical patients.


If you or a loved one suffered serious harm as a result of surgical malpractice in the United States, you should promptly find a surgical medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your surgical medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a surgical medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.

Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.