Medical malpractice: Understanding never events

When an injury or illness strikes, people entrust medical professionals with their treatment and care. In doing so, they often view these workers as infallible – expecting them to maintain perfection in their job performance.

Unfortunately, physicians and other health care professionals may make mistakes on-the-job from time to time. In some cases, such errors may cause serious injury, illness or death for their patients.

Medical errors that should never happen

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the term never event refers to preventable medical mistakes that should not ever occur. The list of events that fall under this term includes medical errors such as the following:

  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient or body part
  • Unintentionally leaving a foreign object in a patient after a procedure
  • Administering contaminated drugs to or using contaminated devices on a patient
  • Giving patients the wrong drug or dosage, or giving patients medications at the wrong time
  • Discharging a patient unable to make decisions to someone other than an authorized person

Such adverse medical events may, for instance, cause patients to suffer additional or worsened conditions and, in some cases, death.

Legal action for medical mistakes

According to state law, patients may take legal action for medical malpractice against health care providers in cases when their physicians breached the duty of care owed to them. While the state caps the damages patients may recover in such cases at $600,000, that maximum allowance does not apply to compensation for any associated medical care and benefits. For example, this may include the costs of a patient’s ongoing rehabilitative therapies.