What Are the Top 5 Medical Errors?

May 13, 2024 | Thomas L. Stroble
What Are the Top 5 Medical Errors?

Most medical professionals and healthcare facilities offer excellent care. However, medical malpractice and errors are common in the United States.

If a healthcare provider harms you, pursue your legal options. If your case was caused by a mistake that violated the medical standard of care, you can receive compensation in a lawsuit with the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney.

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What Is Medical Malpractice? 

Medical malpractice: A stethoscope, medical documents, and a lawsuit are depicted.

Medical malpractice means a doctor, medical facility, or other healthcare practitioner harmed you by not following the standard of medical care. The harm they caused you from negligence can stem from failure to treat, misdiagnosis, or a surgical mistake.

Legally speaking, medical malpractice involves:

  • The medical standard of care was violated. You have the right to expect your physician or hospital to deliver medical care consistent with acceptable standards as judged by other medical professionals in the same situation. 
  • You suffered an injury because of medical negligence. If the doctor didn’t meet the medical standard of care, you must prove that you suffered harm that wouldn’t have happened without the act or lack of an act that caused the subpar care. In some states, you must show that the doctor’s action or inaction was the proximate cause of your injury. 
  • Your injury caused damages. The injury because of a medical mistake must have led to a disability, medical bills, lost earnings, or pain and suffering. 

Many types of medical malpractice and errors can trigger a malpractice claim. Any doctor, healthcare professional, or medical facility can be sued for medical malpractice.

Medical Malpractice Statistics

Most medical professionals and facilities offer proper medical care. However, medical mistakes and malpractice happen daily in the United States. How often? 

Consider these troubling medical malpractice statistics from recent years:

  • One-third of medical care providers are eventually sued for medical malpractice. 
  • Medical care providers make errors they could have avoided in three to 15 percent of all medical cases. 
  • Misdiagnosis is the most common form of medical error. The most commonly misdiagnosed conditions are vascular issues, infections, and cancer. 
  • Prescription mistakes are also common, with morphine and insulin the most often administered incorrectly. 
  • Surgeons are most likely of all healthcare providers to be sued for medical malpractice. 
  • 97 percent of successful medical error claims settle out of court. 
  • Medical mistakes cause 250,000 deaths every year in the U.S. 
  • Medical errors account for almost ten percent of all fatalities annually in the U.S. 
  • Medical malpractice is the number-three most frequent cause of death in the U.S. 

Most Common Causes Of Medical Errors

It’s scary to consider that a medical mistake by your doctor can leave you worse off than you were before.

All kinds of medical errors may cause a malpractice suit, with the following the most common: 


Misdiagnosis is the #1 medical error in the United States. It occurs when a healthcare provider or facility improperly diagnoses a medical condition or fails to diagnose the condition at all.

This mistake may cause you to receive an incorrect diagnosis, possibly causing incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment. Heart attacks and cancer are the most common missed diagnoses.

For example, you can go to your doctor complaining of difficulty breathing, and the doctor may diagnose you with asthma. But months later, lung cancer might be discovered, and the delay of treatment can lead to adverse consequences, including death.

#2: Surgical Mistakes

Doctors make preventable surgical errors during an operation. Surgical mistakes can happen at any part of the operation, such as preoperative procedures or postoperative care.

Surgical mistakes can have severe or fatal outcomes for patients. Whether the surgeon left a tool in your body, did the surgery on the wrong side, or even did a procedure on the wrong patient, you can suffer serious harm if it happens to you. A common surgical mistake is operating on the wrong side of the body, such as in brain surgery or a joint replacement.

Dangerous surgeries that often trigger medical malpractice claims include those on the brain, heart, and spinal cord, procedures for cancer, and organ transplants.

#3: Failure To Treat 

Wooden cubes spell out "medical errors" on a table, with a judge's gavel next to them. In the background, a doctor with a stethoscope stands, symbolizing malpractice and medical error.

This medical error happens when the doctor properly diagnoses your condition but doesn’t treat it correctly. The failure to treat can happen in many ways, including misdiagnosis, negligence, diagnosis delay, or poor medical care.

Failure to treat, such as in a cancer diagnosis, can have severe consequences for a patient’s health. A doctor can fail to provide sufficient follow-up care after a procedure.

#4: Prescription Drug Errors

Prescription drug mistakes, also called medication errors, happen when there are inaccuracies or mistakes in any part of the medicine prescription process, ranging from administration to prescription. These mistakes can happen in a pharmacy, hospital, doctor’s office, or other medical facility.

Medication errors can cause severe harm to patients.

For example, if you receive too much or not enough insulin, you can suffer severe or fatal consequences. These errors are often due to human error, system failures, or miscommunication.

A doctor can prescribe the wrong drug, or too much or too little.

Another common problem is a medication error caused by one drug interacting with another.

#5: Birth Injuries

Childbirth is supposed to be one of life’s great joys. However, many births are marred by medical mistakes that can severely injure the baby. A birth injury occurs during or immediately after childbirth. The baby’s position, medical interventions during delivery and labor, misuse of medical devices, or insufficient oxygen to the baby’s brain can cause birth injuries.

Many OBGYNs face medical error lawsuits for childbirth mistakes. Common examples of birth injuries that result in lawsuits include spinal cord injuries, head injuries, nerve damage, shoulder dystocia, and cerebral palsy.

How Do You Sue for Medical Malpractice? 

Proving medical malpractice is one of the most difficult of all personal injury claims. Suing a doctor for malpractice isn’t easy, but you can rely on an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to lead the way.

You must take several steps when suing a medical provider for medical malpractice:

Find Out if You Have a Valid Claim 

A medical malpractice claim is on the table.

The first step to suing for a medical error is knowing if you have a claim. You and your attorney will only move forward with the process if you can likely prove that the physician harmed you and that you should receive compensation.

You may have a medical malpractice claim if you can prove you suffered an injury because of the doctor’s actions or omissions that fell under the standard of care. 

Every licensed doctor must meet the standard of care, which means they have to provide treatment of a similar quality as another physician would in their situation. If the doctor violated the standard of care, you can have a valid claim.

Your attorney will carefully review your case to determine if it can result in compensation. Not every negative medical outcome is the basis of a successful medical malpractice claim.

Make Sure the Statute of Limitations Hasn’t Expired

You only have a limited time from the date of injury to file a claim. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice varies by state, states often set it between two and four years.

Typically, the clock begins to run when a medical mistake occurs. However, you may notice the harm you or your child suffered for some time. Many states have a discovery rule that states the clock doesn’t start on the statute of limitations until you know about the injury.

Determine Who To Sue

Next, you need to understand who or which entity to sue. You might think that you might only sue a particular doctor. But it might turn out that you should sue someone else, multiple people, or even both medical professionals and medical facilities.

You may sue the doctor, the hospital, and other employees for violating the standard of care. Depending on the state, you may sue under vicarious liability rules, meaning you can hold the employer accountable for their employee’s negligence.

You may sue physician assistants, nurse practitioners, radiologists, lab workers, and pharmacists. You must name the correct people or entities in the lawsuit, which is one of your attorney’s duties.

Understand The Rules In Your State

Many states have tort reform laws that may make a malpractice claim more difficult.

Your state’s tort reform rules can require you to closely follow special procedures to file a malpractice claim, such as:

  • Provide sufficient notice to the physician that you intend to file a medical error claim. 
  • Obtain an affidavit or certificate from a medical expert stating there are grounds to sue for malpractice. 
  • Submit your claim to a review panel before filing a lawsuit. 

Your state can have other rules to follow in a malpractice claim. An experienced attorney will know your state’s rules and ensure that your case is filed by the rules.

Attempt to Negotiate a Settlement

Medical concept: On a white surface, there are medicines, a stethoscope, and a sheet of paper with the text "Medical Insurance."

Almost every physician and facility has malpractice insurance. If the insurance company states it is liable for the case, it can offer a settlement. Typically, this lump sum payment allows you to receive money for your losses without suing.

If you agree to a settlement, you forfeit your right to sue. Settlements are common because they offer financial certainty and a shorter timeline to case resolution. 

Going to court can take a long time with no guarantee the court will find in your favor. That said, your attorney will advise you about settling, negotiating for more, or going to trial.

File a Lawsuit

Not all medical malpractice claims can be settled out of court. If the insurance company rejects liability or offers too little money, it’s time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Your attorney will file the legal complaint with the appropriate court and cover any filing fees. They will inform the doctor or facility, and the discovery process will begin.

Discovery is when both sides exchange information. Then, the  court will set a trial date. You may settle at any time before the judge or jury reaches a verdict.

The sooner you have a medical malpractice attorney on your case, the more likely you will receive compensation in a claim or lawsuit. You cannot resolve a malpractice claim on your own.

Not Every Medical Mistake Is Actionable

While medical malpractice is common, not every medical mistake leads to litigation. A medical mistake might not injure you. For example, if the doctor misses your asthma diagnosis initially but no harm results, you cannot sue for medical malpractice.

However, if the doctor doesn’t follow the medical standard of care in that situation and an injury results, you can file a claim.

A medical malpractice attorney can review your case to determine if you can file a claim. If you don’t have a case, the attorney won’t accept it. But if they do take your case, this suggests they think it’s highly likely you will obtain a payout.

Speak to a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Now

If you suffered tremendous harm because of a medical error, leave all the legal and administrative work to your medical malpractice lawyer so you can focus on healing.

Speak to a medical malpractice lawyer in your area today for more information. Most personal Injury attorneys don’t charge for the consultation, and you won’t pay legal fees unless you recover compensation.

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Thomas L. Stroble Author Image

Thomas L. Stroble


Mr. Stroble is a highly accomplished graduate of Michigan State University, with degrees in both science and law. He specializes in commercial lawsuits and personal injury cases. Licensed to practice law in Michigan and even the U.S. Supreme Court, he’s a well-qualified legal expert. Besides his career in law, he loves outdoor activities and volunteers as a part-time police officer in Birmingham.

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