Can You Sue If a Colonoscopy Goes Wrong?


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A colonoscopy is a screening that allows a doctor to examine the inside of the colon and rectum closely. Usually, the patient is instructed to switch to a clear liquid diet and take some bowel prep medication the day before the procedure to clear out their colon. The patient is given a light sedative right before the procedure, and then the process begins.

During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a long, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end. This tube is inserted through the anus and into the colon. During the test, the doctor can identify areas of inflammation and internal bleeding, find and remove most polyps, and even remove some small cancers.

When Is a Colonoscopy Indicated?

Most colonoscopies are performed as part of a routine health screening to detect and prevent colon and rectal cancer before it becomes too advanced to treat. The screenings can also help determine the underlying cause of various intestinal conditions, such as abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, and rectal bleeding.

When used as a routine screening tool, current guidelines recommend that everyone should get their first colonoscopy at age 45 or younger if they have an increased risk for colorectal cancer. In most cases, a colonoscopy should be repeated every ten years but may be done more often depending on someone’s risk factors, health conditions, and the results of prior colonoscopies.

Are There Any Risks to a Colonoscopy?

In general, colonoscopies are considered extremely safe. During the procedure, it’s common to feel mild pain, pressure, or cramping. A light sedative is usually used to reduce this discomfort. Cramping, bloating, and the need to pass gas are all expected after the procedure, and if any polyps are removed or if a biopsy is done, it’s not uncommon to see streaks of blood in the stool for a few days.

It’s currently estimated that there are fewer than three serious complications for every 1,000 colonoscopy procedures performed, but those complications can have devastating consequences. Potential complications include:

  • Perforations or lacerations leading to bleeding, hemorrhage, or infection
  • Reaction to the sedative, including breathing or heart problems
  • Post-polypectomy Electrocoagulation Syndrome, which is a rare complication caused when there is an injury to the bowel wall resulting in a burn that can cause fever, severe abdominal pain, and rapid heart rate

Of these, colonoscopic perforation is widely recognized as one of the most serious complications. They typically occur accidentally, often when a polyp is removed, and small perforations can sometimes go unnoticed for days until they result in a life-threatening infection or bleeding. While still serious, many of these small perforations can often be treated with hospitalized bed rest, antibiotics, and time. Large tears, however, are considered medical emergencies that require immediate surgical repair.

While serious perforations are extremely rare, they have a high rate of morbidity and mortality. When a perforation occurs, the mortality rate is around 30 percent. When a perforation is severe and causes intestinal fluid to leak into the abdomen, it can cause a condition known as diffuse peritonitis (severe inflammation of the abdominal lining), which has a mortality rate of up to 70 percent.

Does a Colonoscopy Injury Mean Malpractice Has Occurred?

While an injury during a colonoscopy can occasionally occur even when a doctor does everything right (such as having a severe reaction to the sedative medication), injuries such as colonoscopic perforations can often be caused by a doctor who is distracted, impaired, or doesn’t have the necessary skills to prevent the perforation or to correct it before it causes serious complications. In these situations, an injured victim can consider filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

When you or your loved one is catastrophically injured or dies at the hands of a negligent doctor, the legal team at Ross Feller Casey is here to help. Our lawyers and on-staff Ivy League-trained doctors have recovered millions for medical malpractice and wrongful death victims throughout Pennsylvania, and we’re ready to put our expertise to work for you.

Pennsylvania law generally only allows a lawsuit to be filed within the first two years after an injury, so don’t delay. The parties responsible for your colonoscopy injury should pay for the damage their negligence has caused, and you deserve compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Consultations are always free, and there’s no fee unless you win your case. Contact us today.

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.