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Philadelphia Med Mal & Birth Injury Lawyer / Blog / Medical Malpractice / Wrong Site Surgery & Medical Malpractice Explained

Wrong Site Surgery & Medical Malpractice Explained


Few medical mistakes can be as upsetting or terrifying as wrong site surgery. While such a medical error is usually obvious and easy to detect, the reasons such an error occurs are not always as easy to spot, thus making the legal position of the patient victim difficult.

What Is Wrong Site Surgery?

Wrong site surgery is a broad term referring to surgeries performed on the wrong body part, wrong side of the body, wrong patient, or at the wrong level of the correctly identified anatomical side or organ. Wrong side surgery, the most common form of wrong site surgery, occurs when a surgical procedure is erroneously performed on the opposite side of the body than intended. An example would be the amputation of the right leg instead of the intended left leg. Another type of wrong site surgery involves the performance of a surgical procedure on the wrong part of the body. An example of such an error would be the performance of a surgical procedure on the small intestine rather than on the intended large intestine.

Frequency of Wrong Site Surgery

While wrong site surgeries are rare, the vast majority of such procedures go unreported. Research estimates approximately 40 wrong site procedures occur in the U.S. each week. Certain specialities have higher rates of wrong site surgeries; approximately 25% of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons have committed such errors. Of orthopedic procedures involving the wrong site, these were their relative frequencies per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 59% involved wrong-side surgeries
  • 23% involved wrong-site surgeries that didn’t involve a wrong side
  • 14% were the wrong procedures altogether
  • 5% were performed on the wrong patient

Most Common Causes Of Wrong Site Surgery

Generally, wrong-site surgery occurs either due to a lack of a formal system to verify the site of the surgery or a breakdown of such a system. Most commonly, a communication failure, a lack of procedural compliance, or a lack of oversight by senior leadership is the root cause of wrong-site procedures. Within the communication failure category of error, misinterpretation of clinical letters or radiology reports is the most common cause of the wrong site getting marked prior to surgery.

Consequences of Performing Surgery on the Wrong Area

The consequences of performing surgery on the wrong area of a patient’s body are devastating. Patients can suffer permanent injuries that cause significant health damage, including death. Almost universally, patients who suffer from wrong site surgery experience significant mental and emotional distress as well as professional and financial loss.

Proving Medical Malpractice Through Negligence

Hospitals and clinics have protocols in place to check and to verify surgical sites before, during, and after surgeries take place. When a wrong site procedure takes place, it is clear these protocols failed and an error has taken place. The difficult questions revolve around determining exactly where, when, and by whom such errors were made.

Who Is Held Liable For Wrong Site Surgery?

Several parties may be liable for wrong site surgery, including the surgeon(s), any member of the surgical team, and the facility at which the procedure took place.


In the vast majority of wrong site surgery cases, the surgeon will be found liable. It is a surgeon’s professional duty and responsibility to check and re-check they are performing surgery on the right patient, at the right site.


Hospitals and any facility where surgery takes place are responsible for the actions of their employees, including surgeons and members of the surgical team. For this reason, hospitals and such facilities will be named in a malpractice suit and will be responsible for paying damages, including medical expenses, lost earnings, future financial losses and compensation for pain and suffering.

Medical Team

Medical teams, composed of nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, lab technicians, radiology technicians, and other healthcare professionals, play important roles in any surgical procedure. Each team member is responsible for a specific task and plays a vital supporting role for the surgeon. If any one of these team members makes an error that leads to wrong site surgery, he or she can be found partially liable along with the surgeon.

File A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

If you have suffered from a wrong site surgery, you may have a valid medical malpractice claim. You may be eligible for compensation for your damages.

Compensation For Damages

Compensation for damages in a wrong site surgery case will depend on the circumstances of your injury. You may be entitled to recover the following:

  • Medical expenses related to the initial surgery and any followup corrective surgeries and medical care required.
  • Lost earnings, present and future
  • Damages related to pain and suffering;
  • Expenses for future care and support services

Schedule A Consultation With The Villari Firm Today

The Villari Firm has over 20 years of experience helping families in the Philadelphia area who have suffered from medical negligence. Call us today to discuss your wrong site surgery case. We work to hold the negligent parties responsible and get you the compensation you deserve.


  1. Cobb TK. Wrong site surgery-where are we and what is the next step?. Hand (N Y). 2012;7(2):229-232. doi:10.1007/s11552-012-9405-5
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