When Are Weight-Loss Surgery Complications Medical Malpractice?


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There are thousands of weight-loss surgeries performed every year in the U.S. The majority of people who opt to have these types of operations make it through just fine, experiencing only minor complications that are typical during the healing process, and go on to lose weight as they hoped. However, there are cases in which patients experience complications that are far worse than the usual pain and tenderness that's expected. Bariatric procedures are complicated, making the potential for medical mistakes or malpractice on the part of surgeons and other medical professionals higher, and also increasing the severity of the medical risks that patients might experience.

What Is Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery refers to several different types of weight-loss procedures. Generally, bariatric surgery is a procedure that modifies an individual's digestive system to limit the amount of food that can be eaten and digested. It causes the food to bypass a portion of the small intestine, and this bypass reduces the number of calories absorbed. Bariatric surgery is only performed on patients who are significantly overweight.

Types of Bariatric Surgery Procedures

Bariatric surgery encompasses the well-known gastric bypass surgery as well as other types of weight-loss procedures. The most common surgeries include the following:

Gastric Bypass Surgery – This procedure involves the surgeon making an incision across the top portion of the stomach, which seals it from the remaining part of the stomach, creating a pouch. That pouch is only big enough to hold about an ounce of food. The small intestine is cut and attached directly to the pouch. 

Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding (LAGB) – This procedure, known as lap band surgery, involves the surgeon adding an inflatable band around the upper portion of the stomach. The band compresses the stomach, similar to a belt. The band divides the stomach into two parts, with an upper pouch that can be adjusted to restrict or relax. 

Vertical Banded Gastroplasty – This procedure is commonly known as stomach stapling. The process involves separating the stomach into two parts to restrict the amount of food that can be eaten. This type of weight-loss procedure isn’t as popular as others as it doesn’t typically lend itself well to long-lasting weight loss.

Sleeve Gastrectomy – This procedure is a relatively new type of bariatric surgery that involves modifying the stomach into a tube-like shape by removing 80 to 85 percent of the stomach.

Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch – This procedure involves performing a sleeve gastrectomy, which removes a large portion of the stomach, but also includes part of the small intestine being removed. This procedure limits food intake and nutrient absorption.

Bariatric surgery may be performed laparoscopically, in which a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions, or as open surgery, in which there is a large surgical incision to open up the abdomen.

What Are The Risks Associated With Weight-Loss Surgeries?

Many patients undergo bariatric surgeries successfully and go on to lose large amounts of weight. However, there are some serious risks, including:

  • Infection
  • Hernia
  • Hemorrhage
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Gastritis
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Anastomotic strictures – narrowing of the new connection between the stomach pouch and the small intestine
  • Anastomotic ulcers – lesions that occur at the connection of the stomach pouch and the small intestine
  • Anastomotic leak – leakage of fluid contents of the GI tract
  • Nutritional deficiencies – lack of absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients 

While some of the above conditions may be considered mild side effects of bariatric surgery, some are serious injuries that may require additional operations to repair. As more patients opt to have weight-loss surgeries, the potential for mistakes and medical malpractice also increases.

When Are Weight-Loss Surgery Errors Medical Malpractice?

There are various ways that bariatric surgery mistakes can happen, including:

  • Surgery is performed by surgeons with inadequate training and experience for this type of procedure
  • A failure to identify and treat gastric bleeding and leakage of gastric fluid into the abdominal cavity
  • Performing the surgery on patients who are not good candidates for the procedure due to other health concerns
  • Inadequate monitoring of post-operative patients
  • A failure to identify and treat complications like pulmonary embolism and internal hernia

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of any post-surgical complications can become life-threatening to the patient. Those patients who have suffered injuries due to medical malpractice may be able to file a claim against the surgeon, other medical professional, or hospital that is responsible.

Proving Medical Malpractice After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery malpractice, like other forms of medical malpractice, must be established in a court of law before the medical professional who caused injury can be held accountable. Because medical malpractice cases can be quite complex, it's critical for patients who have been harmed to obtain legal representation from experienced medical malpractice attorneys. It is also essential that the legal team includes medical professionals who have extensive knowledge of bariatric procedures and the risks that are associated with them.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have medical malpractice attorneys who have a winning record in these types of cases, as well as medical doctors on-staff who know the ins and outs of weight-loss surgeries. We have helped numerous clients recover significant compensation for injuries sustained due to medical negligence before, during, or after bariatric procedures.

If you or a loved one have suffered injuries due to weight-loss surgery, contact our office for a free case evaluation. All of our malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means there is no cost to you until a financial recovery is made.

About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience as a physician, Dr. Gerald B. Parker brings a unique perspective as a Philadelphia doctor-lawyer to Ross Feller Casey.

Gerald Parker, III

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