Can A Surgical Center Be Liable For Medical Malpractice?


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As patients in the U.S. pursue efficient and cost-effective options for minor medical procedures outside of hospitals, they are increasingly turning to outpatient surgery centers. However, this choice presents certain risks. Even seemingly routine surgeries can result in harm and potential medical negligence or malpractice when proper procedures aren't followed and mistakes are made.

These centers operate across the country and were initially intended for elective surgeries with minimal recovery periods. Now, they are performing more and more complex procedures, sometimes resulting in significant patient harm.

Unlike hospitals, surgery centers often operate without the same level of oversight and transparency, which complicates patients' access to information about past incidents of adverse outcomes. Even so, they are held to comparable standards regarding patient care as hospitals and other medical settings. If you suffered injuries because a surgery center breached those standards, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the center.

What Is Considered A Surgical Center?

Surgical centers are medical locations that offer same-day surgical procedures. They are known by various names, including same-day surgical centers, ambulatory surgical centers, outpatient surgery centers, and surgicenters. Patients often find surgery centers simple and convenient, while insurance companies and doctors like them because they are more cost-effective than traditional hospitals.

Some of the common services offered by surgical centers include:

  • Elective procedures
  • Same-day surgical procedures
  • Preventative procedures
  • Diagnostics

Surgical centers do not provide inpatient care after someone has a surgical procedure. At the same time, hospitals typically admit patients overnight (or longer) so they can be monitored during the first phase of their recovery. Sending patients home to recover makes surgery more affordable for insurance companies and patients.

Not all types of procedures are appropriate for surgical centers. However, many medical specialty areas commonly use surgical centers, including:

  • Ophthalmology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Orthopedics
  • Urology
  • Pain Management

How Does Medical Malpractice Happen In Surgical Centers?

The same things that make surgical centers appealing are what can lead to medical malpractice. When a procedure is performed at a surgical center, you aren't kept long after the surgery is completed. That means that medical professionals must know – without an extended period of post-operative monitoring – that you are ready to be released. Unfortunately, because of the expedited nature of a surgical center, normal operations can result in the staff making critical errors and not properly monitoring post-operative patients.

At Ross Feller Casey, we see this potentially life-threatening situation all too frequently. In one example, Ross Feller Casey secured a $6 million settlement for the parents of Mariah Edwards, a 17-year-old who died due to medical negligence following a routine tonsillectomy at Abington Surgical Center outside of Philadelphia.

After the procedure, Mariah was not properly monitored in the post-anesthesia care unit despite being administered Fentanyl, a potent narcotic known to depress respiratory function. Nurses neglected to monitor her as her respiratory condition worsened unnoticed. Vital signs weren't checked, and monitoring equipment was ignored or improperly set. Consequently, Mariah suffered irreversible brain damage due to oxygen deprivation and died 15 days later.

As a result of the litigation, Abington Surgical Center implemented several policy changes to enhance patient safety in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). These changes include providing one-on-one nursing care to patients who have received IV narcotics, ensuring monitoring equipment is not muted, prohibiting curtains obstructing nurses’ view of patients, and appointing a dedicated charge nurse responsible for overseeing patient flow and nurse staffing in the PACU.

Some of the other medical mistakes that can lead to surgical center malpractice include:

  • Hiring under-qualified or improperly trained staff
  • Failure to inform the patient about surgery risks
  • Incorrect or delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to sterilize surgical equipment
  • Making surgical or anesthesia-related errors
  • Failure to recognize the need for monitoring following surgery
  • Discharging a patient too soon

How Can You Hold An Outpatient Surgery Center Liable?

Surgery centers often use independent service providers, including surgeons and anesthesiologists, rather than employing them directly. Even though these providers are authorized to use the center's facilities and equipment, they are technically operating as independent contractors rather than employees under the direct supervision of the surgical center.

As a result, surgery centers may argue that they're not liable for the actions of these contractors. However, the law regarding vicarious liability suggests that if patients reasonably believe these contractors were acting on behalf of the center, the facility could share liability in any malpractice claims. This perception must come from the contractors' actions and communications or indications from the surgery center itself, making it unreasonable for patients to discern the contractors' independent status. An experienced surgical center malpractice attorney can determine which parties are potentially liable in these complicated cases.

Speak With A Philadelphia Surgery Center Malpractice Attorney

Medical errors, including those that occur during an outpatient surgical procedure, could have catastrophic outcomes for victims. In some cases, such errors could even prove fatal.

If you feel you have been injured due to negligence at a surgical center in Pennsylvania, you need to seek expert legal representation as soon as possible. Call today to schedule an appointment to speak with one of Ross Feller Casey's outpatient surgery center medical malpractice lawyers and discuss your legal options. Attorneys will review your case for free, and there will be no charges to you until your case is won or settled.

About the Author

Kyle A. Jacobsen joined Ross Feller Casey in February 2021 and focuses his practice on representing clients who suffered catastrophic injuries due to medical malpractice, defective products, and dangerous premises.

Kyle Jacobsen

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.