Medical Malpractice in Eye Surgery: All You Need to Know

Friday, October 7, 2022

Medical Malpractice in Eye Surgery: All You Need to Know

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

No one can argue about the value of the eye. The human eye is a remarkable tool designed by nature, but is also a vital one. Humans rely on their eyes to see, function, and experience life. That is why patients visit their eye doctors. They receive routine, annual screenings, receive prescription glasses and ensure complications with their vision are addressed immediately.

Sadly, there are instances where an eye doctor or specialist may miss a condition or cause a serious error that results in the patient losing his or her ability to see the world around them.

If you believe you are the victim of vision malpractice, the experienced legal team at Malman Law is ready to help. For a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced lawyers, please call us today or request additional information online.

How the Eye Works

A healthy eye works like a camera. It provides you with clear, uninterrupted vision using several components.

Just some elements of the eye include the iris, pupil, cornea, and lens. All these elements work together to bring images in and allow your brain to interpret them.

What Does an Ophthalmologist or Eye Doctor Do?

An ophthalmologist is a physician who deals with the treatment, pathology, function, and anatomy of the eye. The casual reference to them is an “eye doctor.” Some eye doctors have medical degrees, which means they receive specialized training to provide everything from eye surgery to prescription glasses.

There are subspecialties in this field of medicine. These subspecialties focus specifically on one area of treatment and include:

  • External Disease and Corneal Disease – This eye doctor handles eye transplants, corneal surgery, and refractive errors. They might also treat infections of the eye.
  • Glaucoma – An eye doctor specializing in glaucoma treatments handles the diagnosis and surgical treatment of this disease for adults and children.
  • Pathologist – An ophthalmic pathologist reviews tissue specimens of the eye and diagnoses conditions, infections, and disease.
  • Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery – This specialty combines plastic surgery with eye surgery and typically includes orbital surgery, lacrimal surgery, facial lifts, and eyelid or brow lift procedures.
  • Pediatric Ophthalmology – This field specializes in the care of children, including disorders and routine vision exams.
  • Vitreoretinal Disease – This specialty involves the medical and surgical treatment of all retinal diseases.

What Are the Most Common Reasons Why Eye Doctors Are Sued?

Not all poor outcomes are the result of negligence or lawsuits. Instead, a lawsuit stems from negligence by the physician or their staff.

Surgical Injuries and Negligence

Surgical injuries might include leaving instruments in the patient’s eye, performing surgery on the wrong eye, performing unnecessary eye surgeries, carelessly using surgical tools, or causing damage to other parts of the eye not being operated on.

Post-Procedural Infections

The eye is delicate and subject to severe infections. Infections can spread to the brain and result in eye loss. When surgical equipment or examination equipment is not properly sanitized, an infection is more likely.

Failure to Follow Up with a Patient

Eye doctors must follow up with their patients after treatments and diagnosis.

Failure to follow up after a surgery, ignoring a patient’s medical history, or discharging a patient too early after vision surgery could result in serious injuries.

Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose and Treat

During routine screenings, eye doctors detect potential conditions. If that eye doctor fails to diagnose or misdiagnoses a patient, it could result in permanent injuries. Sometimes, a patient might be diagnosed with an eye condition they do not have, resulting in thousands of dollars in expensive treatments.

Off-Label Use of Medical Devices in Ophthalmology

Medical devices and medications come in many forms, but when a doctor chooses to use them off-label (a use not intended by the manufacturer), it can result in complications. This is particularly the case during delicate eye surgery when an off-label product is supplemented for a recommended tool.

Medical Conditions Ophthalmologists Treat

There are a number of medical conditions that require treatment by an ophthalmologist:

  • Conjunctivitis: also known as pink eye, an infection that causes the lining of the eye to become itchy and inflamed.
  • Cataracts: a cataract causes the natural lens of the eye to become cloudy. This is most common in older patients. If you wait too long to treat a cataract, they become more difficult to remove in surgery.
  • Glaucoma: the condition is the result of fluid building up behind the eye, resulting in a patient suffering from vision loss.
  • Ptosis: a condition where the eyelid droops, affecting the patient’s eyesight. It is often caused by damage to the nerve that controls the upper eyelid but can also be a result of eye trauma.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: in diabetics, elevated glucose levels can damage the retina or optic nerve.

Ophthalmologists are required to dedicate many years to properly train in their specialty. Besides four years of medical school, they often spend a year interning in general medicine before dedicating another three years to their profession in residency.

Taking that into account, ophthalmologists can still make medical errors. During the preventative part of a routine eye exam, an eye doctor may misdiagnose or even miss a pathology diagnosis, causing the condition to go untreated. Detection of a disease in its early stages can save a patient thousands of dollars in medical bills further down the road.

Any mistake at the hands of an ophthalmologist should be legally remedied. Any patient who experiences vision loss should not have to compromise their financial well-being. The legal team at Malman Law will be able to provide you with a free case evaluation to determine if your eye doctor acted negligently.

Types of Vision Refractive Errors

The most common vision problems are a result of a refractive error within one or both eyes. A refractive error is caused by a misshaping of the cornea (transparent tissue forming the front of the eye), causing light to not fall properly on the retina (layer or tissue on the back of the eye).

The four types of refractive errors are:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness): light rays are focused in front of the retina, which could be caused by an eyeball being longer than usual or the cornea curving too sharply. Distant objects appear blurry, while nearby objects are clear.
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness): light rays are focused behind the retina, which could be caused by an eyeball being too short or the cornea being too flat. Nearby objects will appear blurry, but distant objects are clear.
  • Astigmatism: causes blurry vision overall. The cornea is curved more steeply in one direction versus the other. Light rays may be focused on two or more points on the retina.
  • Presbyopia: the lens of the eye prevents light from being focused correctly on the retina. This usually affects older adults, resulting in them having trouble seeing items up close.

Risks Associated with LASIK Surgery

Sometimes a patient elects to wear an eyeglass prescription, while other patients may choose to correct the problem and undergo LASIK surgery. LASIK Surgery is a type of laser refractive surgery that is performed to improve a patient’s vision. The acronym LASIK stands for Laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis. During the procedure, a surgeon removes a flap from the front of the eye and uses a laser to reshape the cornea.

With LASIK surgery, a patient may be able to gain a correction of 20/20 vision or better. In a condition such as presbyopia, the surgeon will replace the patient’s natural lens with an artificial lens in order for them to have multifocal angles.

Sadly, LASIK Surgery comes with its own set of risks:

  • Temporary or permanent loss of night vision
  • Seeing halos (especially around bright lights)
  • Astigmatism (if removal of the tissue during surgery was uneven)
  • Excess tears
  • Infection

Some complications are more serious than others, and could be the result of an error on the part of the eye surgeon. In rare circumstances, patients may lose the majority of their vision or even go blind.

It is the duty of the eye surgeon to review the risks before a patient undergoes LASIK surgery. If you have experienced a complication from LASIK surgery, a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney will be able to review the specifics of your situation and present any legal remedies available to you.

Common Injuries that Result from Vision Errors or Eye Surgery Errors

Eye treatment errors, surgical mistakes, and other forms of negligence can lead to visual impairment and permanent injury. Some patients will lose their vision for the rest of their life, or suffer life-threatening injuries and complications.

Serious injuries that a patient might endure because of an eye doctor’s negligence include:

  • Permanent or Partial Blindness – A patient could go from excellent or standard vision to partial or permanent complete blindness. Not only does this affect the patient’s ability to function, but they may not be able to work, care for their children, or enjoy life as they did before.
  • Inability to See Depth, Contrast, or Colors – Certain injuries to the eye might result in a patient being unable to perceive depth or contrast. These affect a person’s ability to drive and even work. Furthermore, a person may have issues with color detection.
  • Permanent Blurry Vision – Instead of losing their vision, the patient may have uncorrectable blurred vision. Blurred vision may result in the patient losing his or her job, being unable to drive, and other complications.
  • Chronic Dry Eyes – Dry eyes are a serious condition. Not only does it open a patient up to the risk of eye infections, but can lead to blurred vision and other complications.
  • Serious Infections Leading to Eye Loss – When infections are severe, the patient may lose his or her eye. For example, an infection after a corneal transplant could result in the patient losing the transplanted eye(s) and be unable to receive a transplant in the future.

What Compensation Can You Receive for an Eye Surgery or Vision Injury?

Eye injuries are costly and complicated to correct. A patient may require several, expensive, eye surgical procedures to restore vision, a corneal transplant, or the consequences of permanent vision loss.

Depending on the seriousness of the injury, the patient may be entitled to multiple forms of compensation, including:

  • Current and Future Medical Costs – These are the medical expenses associated with treating the injury and any future procedures or treatments necessary. Also, the costs the patient endured for the surgery or treatment that led to their injury might be compensable.
  • Lost Wages – The patient may receive compensation for their lost wages, including time taken off work to deal with the injury and follow-up appointments.
  • Loss of Future Wages – Vision loss, permanent blindness, and blurred vision are likely to reduce the number of jobs that the patient can perform. Also, if the patient has a high-paying career that he or she must forfeit due to vision loss, they may seek financial compensation for their inability to earn the same living in the future.
  • Pain and Suffering – Eye procedures can result in significant pain and emotional suffering. Not only does the victim have to cope with vision loss or other permanent injuries to their ability to see, but the physical and emotional pain of treatments and surgeries to correct the error. Injured patients can also recover their damages for both past and future pain and suffering. Past pain and suffering damages compensate patients for the symptoms they experienced between the date of the malpractice up to the present time. Future pain and suffering compensate injured patients for their anticipated pain and suffering going forward. Injured patients may also receive monetary damages for the inconvenience they experienced due to their injuries – and for any follow-up medical treatment they required
  • Permanent impairment — If a patient suffers a permanent eye injury due to a provider’s negligence or malpractice, they may be able to recover compensation for their permanent disability. Although the amount of compensation can be difficult to quantify, our experienced legal team could use various formulas, including a life table or mortality table, to arrive at a settlement demand number that is favorable to you. To establish that an eye injury is permanent, an eye expert will typically need to state under oath – and to a reasonable degree of medical probability – that your injury is unlikely to become better as time passes. Patients who suffer permanent eye injuries may also experience symptoms, pain, and inconvenience for the rest of their life.

Our experienced legal team can help you determine which of these damages you are eligible to recover as part of your malpractice claim or lawsuit. We can then help you pursue the maximum amount of compensation to make you whole again to the greatest extent possible.

Negotiating a Settlement Versus Litigating Your Case in Court

If you file a malpractice claim or lawsuit against an eye care provider, the goal is to recover the highest amount of monetary compensation available for your injuries. The claims-filing process starts when we submit a settlement demand letter, along with a demand package, to the malpractice insurance carrier. The demand letter will include an initial settlement demand within the malpractice carrier’s policy limits. Most medical, dental, and optical providers have high insurance coverage limits. However, this does not necessarily mean that your case warrants policy limits offer from the insurer. The number of damages you ultimately receive will depend upon the extent of your injuries and the overall impact they have had on your life.

In most instances, it is extremely difficult to convince an insurance company to accept fault for alleged malpractice. After all, insurance companies are going to try and save themselves as much money as possible. They may even refuse to make an offer on your case. If the insurance company disputes fault for the alleged malpractice, we could retain our own expert to review the evidence, and if necessary, testify at a deposition or court proceeding.

If the at-fault vision provider’s malpractice insurer accepts fault for the malpractice, then we can begin settlement negotiations on your behalf. However, it typically takes several rounds of negotiations between ourselves and the insurance company before the latter will agree to increase their offer significantly. If we reach an impasse, we could threaten the insurance company with litigation, and if necessary, file a lawsuit against the provider in court. We would then litigate your case to a conclusion — either at a jury trial or alternative dispute resolution proceeding.

At a jury trial, the jury besides the issue of monetary compensation, including what damages to award you for your vision complications. Alternatively, we could take your case before a binding arbitrator who listens to the evidence and decides the amount of monetary compensation to award you.

Our legal team can help you decide on the best course of action for your case, including whether or not to accept a pending settlement offer, take your case to a jury trial, or pursue one or more types of alternative dispute resolution. We will do everything possible to help you maximize the damages you receive for your eye injury resulting from malpractice.

Informed Consent Cases and the Eye Doctor

Common surgical procedures, such as LASIK and retina surgery, commonly result in malpractice lawsuits. That is because these procedures are dangerous and carry significant risks to the patient if performed incorrectly.

An eye surgeon must inform the patient of all risks and benefits of the surgical procedure or treatment. Then, the patient can only consent to the procedure after understanding these options.

To receive actual informed consent, the eye surgeon or doctor must:

  • Inform the patient of all foreseeable risks and discomforts they may experience.
  • Discuss the benefits of the procedure proposed.
  • Disclose alternative treatment and procedure options, as well as their advantages and risks.
  • Discuss the risks of not completing any treatments.
  • Any research or study information or information pamphlets on the procedure.

What if the Procedure is Experimental?

Eye treatments and procedures are constantly evolving. Therefore, if you are diagnosed with a specific condition, your eye doctor may propose an experimental treatment or ask to involve you in a study.

You must also give informed consent for these studies, but realize that studies and experimental treatments do not carry the same protections as an accepted treatment for eye problems. However, physicians are required to inform you if you are participating in an experimental treatment. They are still required to obtain informed consent, and you must be aware of any approved treatments, along with their risks and benefits. If you accept the experimental treatment, your physician must explain all risks of that experimental treatment.

Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney at Malman Law Today

Poor outcomes are not always the result of malpractice. However, it is in your best interest to consult with your medical malpractice attorney if you suspect you are the victim of negligence. These types of cases are extremely complex; therefore, you need a lawyer who can assist you with reviewing medical records, consulting experts in similar fields, and ensuring that the eye doctor breached his or her duty of care to you.

The attorneys at Malman Law understand what you are going through. Furthermore, we know the consequences of permanent eye damage or loss. We want to help you cope with that loss as best as possible. Our attorneys will advocate for your right to compensation, and we will ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our attorneys today by calling us or request more information online.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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