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Signs and Symptoms of Negligence During Gallbladder Surgery

By Attorney Ben Cohen on

What is a Cholecystectomy?

A cholecystectomy is a surgery for the removal of an individual’s gallbladder. This surgery can be done in a couple of ways. The open (or traditional) method includes a single incision that is four to six inches long where the gallbladder is removed through that large incision. However, a cholecystectomy is usually undertaken through the laparoscopic method, which includes 3-4 small incisions and occurs where a camera and surgical tools are used to remove the gallbladder through one of the incisions. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is less invasive since it uses such small incisions that cause less bleeding. Due to the small incisions, the recovery time is usually much shorter for laparoscopic surgery as opposed to the open method.

A gallbladder may be removed because gallstones have developed in an individual’s gallbladder causing painful symptoms. Other reasons for gallbladder removal may be that the gallbladder is swollen, infected, or the gallbladder is cancerous. Although this is a common procedure, there are often cases where a physician’s negligent conduct causes severe and permanent injuries, and in some cases, even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Negligent Treatment

Surgical errors by medical personnel can cause injuries more severe in a patient than when the surgery began. There are risks that go along with a cholecystectomy, such as bleeding, scarring, numbness at the incision site, a hernia at the incision site, or possible infection. However, there can be signs that certain complications go beyond the included risks of surgery and rise to the level of negligent treatment.

A negligently performed cholecystectomy can lead to bile leakage, infection, bile peritonitis, abscess, and in the worst cases, even death. In some cases, if a physician mistakenly cuts part of the liver known as the bile duct, bile can back up into the bloodstream and cause jaundice or leakage into the abdominal cavity.

Though there are numerous complications that may occur during a cholecystectomy, the most serious injury occurs when the bile duct or hepatic duct is unintentionally damaged, which can cause bile leakage and the need for further surgery. If this damage is detected immediately during the surgery, it can be repaired, but if it goes undetected, peritonitis can set in. Peritonitis can be extremely dangerous and if left untreated for long enough, can be fatal. Injuries can also occur to a patient's intestine, bowel, or major blood vessels.

Symptoms of Possible Negligent Treatment

Patients cannot always immediately tell when their healthcare provider has provided them with negligent treatment, but there are symptoms that a patient can be aware of that should raise an alarm. Symptoms to look out for following gallbladder surgery include:

  • Organ failure
  • Severe pain around the incision site
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Death

Patients should never die from a properly performed cholecystectomy, so that is a clear-cut sign that something went wrong. A cholecystectomy is usually considered a low-risk procedure, so if any major injuries occur following the surgery, there is a good chance that some type of negligence occurred.

Our Experience

We have handled a number of cases dealing with negligently performed gallbladder surgeries. One such case occurred when a schoolteacher and mother of three began experiencing abdominal pain. Her pain worsened and radiated to her back and shoulder. She was ultimately diagnosed with gallstones, and it was recommended that she undergo a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

Less than one minute into the patient’s surgery, the Defendant surgeon cut the wrong duct and completely severed the common bile duct instead of the cystic duct as he was supposed to do. Cutting the common bile duct is a severe and potentially life-threatening mistake, which is why it is imperative for a surgeon to conclusively identify the proper duct before deciding to make any cuts.

As a result of the surgeon’s critical mistake, the patient had to be life-flighted to UPMC-Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where her treatment continued. At that time, the patient’s abdomen was completely opened up and she underwent a complex, major reconstructive surgery of the intestinal tract. This surgery resulted in numerous gastrointestinal related complications such as severe gastroparesis, abdominal pain, epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, early satiety, and more.

This patient continues to treat her injuries to this day, and her quality of life has been drastically reduced. She has also been left with significant scarring and a decreased sensation/numbness in her lower abdomen, both of which affect her self-esteem and intimacy with her husband. Moreover, she was placed at an increased risk for other complications such as bile strictures and additional surgeries.

Though the defense attempted to ignore the clear negligence and claim the injury as a “risk of the procedure,” following a mistrial, the case eventually made its way to a binding arbitration. After each side pleaded their case during the binding arbitration, the arbitrator found in our favor and awarded a substantial confidential amount to our clients.

Another example of a case that we were successful in occurred when an otherwise healthy 56-year-old man began to have persistent nausea. He then went to see his PCP, who referred him to a local hospital where they performed tests that showed he had a few gallstones. The PCP referred him to the Defendant surgeon to perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

While he was operating, the surgeon was supposed to identify the proper duct and anatomy of the gallbladder before cutting anything. Unfortunately, the surgeon identified the gallbladder, but did not properly identify the common bile duct. He mistakenly thought the gallbladder duct was the common bile duct, and he proceeded to clip and cut the common bile duct. The Defendant then cut the duct to remove the gallbladder.

Postoperatively, the patient was in a great deal of pain and was given Percocet for pain management. In the following days, he continued to have nausea and vomiting, and a week after the procedure, the Defendant called the patient back into the hospital where a CT scan revealed that there was a bile leak into the abdomen. The CT scan also showed the surgeon had cut the wrong duct, causing major complications in the patient’s digestive system.

The patient had to undergo a surgical procedure to cut the bile duct in two and reattach the bile duct to the liver and rework the entire digestive tract. However, this stretched the digestive tract, causing dilations and other digestive problems, to which the patient still has problems with today.

A lawsuit was filed against the surgeon for his failure to properly perform the surgery, cutting the wrong duct, and failing to use a choloangiogram (a relatively quick and inexpensive procedure, which a surgeon performing a gallbladder operation can use to help identify the proper ducts and structures inside the stomach). At the Defendant’s deposition, he admitted to the mistake and prior to trial, the case was settled for a substantial amount.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one has had any complications resulting from gallbladder surgery, please reach out to our firm so that we can help you navigate these difficult times. We have experienced lawyers who are knowledgeable on this topic and can answer any questions or concerns you may have. Call us at 412-281-3000 or fill out a Case Review form on our website, www.medmal1.com, to learn if you may have been a victim of malpractice.