When Are Weight Loss Surgery Complications Considered Medical Malpractice?

When are weight loss surgery complications considered medical malpractice? A doctor considers this while looking at a clipboard.

Obesity is a global epidemic, affecting millions of individuals and posing significant health risks. Weight loss surgery, medically known as bariatric surgery, has emerged as an effective tool in the fight against obesity, offering patients the potential for substantial weight reduction and improved overall health. In fact, the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) reported an estimated 262,893 bariatric surgeries in 2021. However, like any surgical procedure, bariatric surgery carries inherent risks. The ASMBS also reported that major weight loss surgery complications occur in approximately 4% of bariatric surgery cases, with the most common problems being leaks, bleeding, and wound infections. Sometimes, these weight loss surgery complications can, under specific conditions, lead to a viable medical malpractice claim.

If you or a loved one has experienced complications from a weight loss surgery, Raynes & Lawn, a Philadelphia medical malpractice law firm, may be able to help you with your case. Read on to learn more about weight loss surgery and medical malpractice then give us a call.

Key Takeaways

  • Weight loss surgeries, also known as bariatric surgeries, have gained prominence as effective treatments for obesity, offering patients the potential for substantial weight loss and improved health.
  • Complications can arise from any surgical procedure, but when they result from medical negligence, they may serve as the basis for a medical malpractice claim.
  • Factors contributing to medical malpractice in the context of weight loss surgery include inadequate candidate evaluation, surgeon inexperience or incompetence, delayed diagnosis of complications, and substandard post-surgery care.
  • Identifying the parties responsible for medical malpractice in the realm of bariatric surgery can be a complex but essential endeavor for justice to be served.

Different Types of Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgery, medically known as bariatric surgery, encompasses a variety of surgical procedures designed to address obesity and its associated health risks. Each type of surgery has distinct characteristics, mechanisms of action, and considerations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common weight loss surgeries and what is involved in each:

Gastric Bypass

Gastric bypass surgery, technically referred to as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, is one of the most frequently performed bariatric procedures. This surgery is designed to promote weight loss by altering the anatomy of the digestive system, leading to reduced food consumption and calorie absorption.

The procedure involves several key steps:

  1. Creation of a Small Pouch: The surgeon divides the stomach into two parts, creating a small upper pouch and a larger lower pouch. The small pouch can hold only a minimal amount of food.
  2. Rerouting of the Small Intestine: The small intestine is reconfigured to allow both pouches to remain connected. This rerouting of the small intestine results in fewer calories and nutrients being absorbed.

Gastric bypass surgery effectively restricts food intake and reduces calorie absorption, making it a powerful tool for significant weight loss. It also influences hormonal changes that can contribute to weight loss and improvements in metabolic health.

Gastric Sleeve

Gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy, has gained popularity as an effective weight loss option. This surgery involves the removal of a substantial portion of the stomach, leaving behind a much smaller, sleeve-shaped stomach.

Key features of gastric sleeve surgery include:

  1. Stomach Reduction: During the procedure, approximately 80% of the stomach is surgically removed, resulting in a banana-shaped stomach with reduced capacity.
  2. Hormonal Impact: Similar to gastric bypass, gastric sleeve surgery has hormonal effects that influence hunger and satiety. Ghrelin, a hormone associated with hunger, is significantly reduced after this surgery.

Gastric sleeve surgery restricts food intake primarily through the reduction in stomach size. Patients experience a sense of fullness much sooner, helping them consume fewer calories and lose weight.

Lap-Band Surgery

Lap-Band surgery, medically known as adjustable gastric banding, is a minimally invasive bariatric procedure that offers adjustability and reversibility. This surgery involves the placement of a silicone band around the upper portion of the stomach to create a smaller stomach pouch.

Key aspects of Lap-Band surgery include:

  1. Adjustable Restriction: The Lap-Band is connected to a port that is placed beneath the skin. It allows for adjustments to the band’s tightness, controlling the rate at which food passes from the upper to the lower part of the stomach.

Duodenal Switch

The duodenal switch, also known as biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch (BPD/DS), is a less common but highly effective weight loss surgery. It is often recommended for individuals with extreme obesity and those who have not achieved significant weight loss through other methods. It is particularly effective in achieving substantial and sustained weight loss. However, it also carries a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies due to the reduced absorption of essential nutrients in the intestines.

Key features of the duodenal switch include:

  1. Sleeve Gastrectomy: Similar to the gastric sleeve, the first step in duodenal switch surgery involves the removal of a significant portion of the stomach(about 80%), creating a small sleeve-like stomach.
  2. Intestinal Bypass: In addition to the sleeve gastrectomy, a significant portion of the small intestine is bypassed in the duodenal switch procedure. This bypass means that food enters the small intestine further down, reducing calorie and nutrient absorption.

Recognizing Weight Loss Surgery Complications

Recognizing complications resulting from weight loss surgery is a critical aspect of patient care. These complications can vary in nature and severity, but early detection is crucial in preventing further harm and facilitating appropriate medical intervention. Some complications that may arise post-bariatric surgery include:

  • Infection: Surgical site infections or infections affecting other organs can be a significant concern.
  • Internal Bleeding: Bleeding within the body can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed. Symptoms may include unexplained drops in blood pressure, abdominal pain, or signs of anemia.
  • Anastomotic Leaks: These occur when there is a leakage at the connection site between the stomach and the intestines, potentially leading to severe infections such as peritonitis and sepsis.
  • Pulmonary Embolism: Pulmonary embolism involves a blood clot traveling to the lungs, potentially causing breathing difficulties, chest pain, and, if not treated promptly, it can be fatal.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Weight loss surgery may lead to malabsorption or insufficient intake of essential nutrients, causing various health issues. Common deficiencies include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and thiamine.
  • Gastrointestinal Obstruction: Partial or complete blockages in the digestive tract can be painful and may lead to vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and changes in bowel habits.
  • Dumping Syndrome: This syndrome can occur due to the rapid emptying of stomach contents into the small intestine. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, and diarrhea, and can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life.

Early recognition of these complications and appropriate intervention is essential in ensuring the best possible outcome for patients who undergo weight loss surgery. Failure to promptly identify and address complications may lead to more severe health issues and, in some cases, may serve as a basis for a medical malpractice claim.

Medical Malpractice and Weight Loss Surgery Complications

Medical malpractice is a complex legal concept that involves situations where healthcare professionals or providers deviate from the standard of care, resulting in harm to the patient. When it comes to weight loss surgery, medical malpractice can occur when patients experience complications due to medical negligence.

Bariatric surgery, while often successful, is not without risks. These procedures require a high level of skill and expertise, and even minor errors can have severe consequences. While not all complications are the result of medical malpractice, it’s essential to understand the circumstances under which such complications can give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

Factors Contributing to Weight Loss Surgery Medical Malpractice

Several factors can contribute to medical malpractice in the context of weight loss surgery:

Inadequate Candidate Evaluation

Not everyone is a suitable candidate for weight loss surgery. Patients must undergo thorough evaluations to ensure that they are physically and mentally fit for the procedure. Medical professionals must assess the patient’s overall health, potential risk factors, and their ability to cope with the demands of post-surgery life. Performing weight loss surgery on an unsuitable candidate can result in complications and potentially serve as the basis for a medical malpractice claim.

For example, let’s say a high risk patient—someone with comorbidity and cardiopulmonary issues—is cleared by their doctor for weight loss surgery. This individual undergoes the surgery only to develop a pulmonary embolism. Although they survive, their condition worsens. In this case, the doctor who allowed this individual to have the weight loss surgery may be held liable.

Surgeon Inexperience or Incompetence

Performing bariatric surgery requires a high level of surgical skill and experience. Inexperienced or incompetent surgeons may subject patients to unnecessary risks and complications. Mistakes during the surgical procedure, such as errors in stapling or suturing, can lead to complications and potential medical malpractice claims.

Delayed Diagnosis of Complications

Postoperative complications, such as anastomotic leaks, infections, or pulmonary embolisms, require prompt diagnosis and intervention. Delayed diagnosis can lead to a worsening of the patient’s condition (or even death) and may serve as a basis for a medical malpractice claim.

Returning to the previous example of the patient developing pulmonary embolism. The person complains of chest pain following their surgery. The medical staff does some tests but does not catch the blood clot. Unfortunately, in this example, the delay in diagnosis of the complication leads to the patient’s demise. Now, the family of the patient has grounds to file a wrongful death claim.

Inadequate Post-Surgery Care

The period following weight loss surgery is critical for the patient’s recovery. This includes monitoring for potential complications, providing appropriate nutritional guidance, and ensuring that the patient is on track to achieve their weight loss and health goals. Inadequate post-surgery care can lead to complications or poor outcomes, potentially serving as a basis for a medical malpractice claim.

Identifying the Parties Responsible for Weight Loss Surgery Malpractice

When it comes to medical negligence before, during, or after a weight loss surgery, identifying the parties responsible can be complex. However, it is not impossible. Here are some of the parties that may be implicated in medical malpractice claims:


The primary surgeon who performs the weight loss surgery is a central figure in any potential medical malpractice claim. Surgeons are held to a high standard of care, and if their actions or decisions fall below this standard, they may be liable for medical malpractice. Common surgical errors can include errors in suturing, stapling, or mismanagement of the surgery.

Surgical Teams

In a surgical setting, the entire surgical team plays a crucial role in patient care. This team may include nurses, anesthesiologists, and other supporting staff. Negligence on the part of any team member that leads to patient harm can result in medical malpractice claims.

Hospitals and Medical Facilities

Hospitals and medical facilities can be held liable for medical malpractice if their policies, procedures, or systems contribute to patient harm. This can include issues such as inadequate staff training, lack of necessary equipment, or errors in record-keeping.

Pharmaceutical Companies

In some cases, complications may arise due to medications or medical devices used in weight loss surgery. If there are defects in these medications or devices, the pharmaceutical companies responsible for them may be implicated in medical malpractice claims.

Post-Operative Care Providers

After weight loss surgery, patients require follow-up care, monitoring, and guidance. If post-operative care providers fail to meet the standard of care in their treatment of patients, they may be liable for medical malpractice.

Nutritionists and Counselors

Weight loss surgery typically involves post-operative dietary changes and counseling. If nutritionists or counselors provide incorrect or inadequate guidance, resulting in harm to the patient, they may be held accountable for medical malpractice.

Steps to Take If You Suspect Weight Loss Surgery Malpractice

Discovering that you or a loved one may be a victim of medical malpractice can be a distressing and overwhelming experience. However, taking the right steps early on is crucial to protect your rights and seek justice. If you suspect medical malpractice in the context of weight loss surgery, consider the following actions:

1. Seek Immediate Medical Attention

If you experience complications after weight loss surgery or suspect medical malpractice, your health should be your top priority. Seek immediate medical attention to address any health issues or complications that have arisen.

2. Document Everything

Maintain thorough records of your medical history, the weight loss surgery procedure, the post-operative care you received, and any complications that have occurred. Document conversations with healthcare professionals, including what was discussed, when, and with whom.

3. Consult with an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney

Medical malpractice claims are intricate and challenging to pursue without legal expertise. Consult with a qualified medical malpractice attorney who specializes in cases related to weight loss surgery. They can help you understand your rights and guide you through the legal process.

4. Request Your Medical Records

You have the right to access your medical records. Request copies of your records, including surgical notes, post-operative care records, and any documentation related to complications. These records can be instrumental in building your case.

5. Consult with Independent Medical Experts

Your attorney may engage independent medical experts to evaluate your case. These experts can provide insights into whether weight loss surgery malpractice occurred and the extent of harm suffered.

6. Assess the Validity of Your Claim

Your attorney will work with you to assess the validity of your medical malpractice claim. Not all adverse outcomes are the result of medical negligence, so a careful evaluation is necessary.

7. File a Lawsuit

If it is determined that you have a valid medical malpractice claim, your attorney will help you initiate a lawsuit against the responsible parties.

8. Pursue Compensation

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, you can seek compensation for damages related to your injuries, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses.

9. Be Prepared for Legal Proceedings

Medical malpractice lawsuits can be lengthy and complex. Be prepared for legal proceedings, which may include depositions, negotiations, and potentially a trial.

10. Advocate for Your Rights

Work closely with your attorney to advocate for your rights and pursue the justice you deserve. Medical malpractice cases can be emotionally challenging, but with the right legal representation, you can seek compensation and accountability.

Contact the Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers of Raynes & Lawn

Weight loss surgery, while offering hope for individuals dealing with obesity, is not without its risks. Medical malpractice claims in the context of weight loss surgery can be complex, necessitating a thorough understanding of the contributing factors, parties responsible, and steps to be taken when malpractice is suspected.

If you or a loved one have experienced complications from weight loss surgery and suspect medical malpractice, it’s crucial to consult with experienced legal professionals who specialize in medical malpractice cases. The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers of Raynes & Lawn have a proven track record of advocating for patients and achieving successful outcomes in complex medical malpractice cases.

Contact us today by filling out the contact form or by calling 1-800-535-1797 to schedule your free consultation.



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