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Common Bile Duct Injuries Caused by Medical Malpractice

What is a Common Bile Duct Injury?

The gallbladder stores bile, which is a fluid formed in the liver and used by the body to breakdown food and aid with digestion.  When a person eats, the gallbladder releases bile which travels to the small intestine through narrow pathways or tubes knowns as “ducts.”  Some ducts connect the gallbladder to the liver and others connect the gallbladder to the intestines.  When bile builds up in the gallbladder, it can cause gallstones and gallbladder inflammation.  This condition is referred to as “calculus of gallbladder with acute cholecystitis.”  Surgery is often necessary to remove the inflamed gallbladder and restore the proper flow of bile.  Although this is a very common surgery, surgeons can cause unnecessary and serious injuries to the common bile duct when they fail to perform the surgery in a manner consistent with the prevailing professional medical standards of care.  What does this mean?

There are a few widely-accepted surgical techniques which surgeons must follow when performing surgery to remove the gallbladder (i.e. cholecystectomy).  These techniques are designed to ensure that surgeons identify and protect important structures near the gallbladder, such as the common bile duct.  When performed correctly, these surgical techniques greatly reduce the rate of surgical error and effectively guard against the negligent transection of the common bile duct.  During a cholecystectomy, the cystic duct and cystic artery are typically severed so the surgeon can remove the gallbladder. Only these structures should be cut.  There is generally no reason a surgeon should negligently fail to distinguish these structures from others surrounding the gallbladder.  But it happens more than it should, particularly when surgeons rush, continue laparoscopic surgery in the face of severely inflamed or hard to see anatomy, or otherwise deviate from the prevailing professional standards of care.  Negligently cutting the common bile duct can lead to serious internal injury to patients and sometimes death.

Avoiding Bile Duct Injuries

Bile has a corrosive effect on the body when it leaks and escapes the biliary system and must be corrected.  Uncorrected bile duct injuries can cause severe pain, fever, jaundice, infection, sepsis and many other injuries including death.  This may be why the medical community has written extensively on how to avoid common bile duct injuries during gallbladder surgery.  Many of these injuries result in long-term patient harm, additional surgery, and medical malpractice litigation.

Lawyers at our law firm have experience with medical malpractice litigation surrounding common bile duct injuries.  Our experience in this area has taught us that common bile duct injuries are typically caused by surgical error and are largely avoidable when surgeons adhere to proper surgical technique.  The primary safety rule a surgeon must follow is to obtain something called the “Critical View of Safety.”  This allows surgeons to see what they are operating on.  When the Critical View of Safety is achieved, the rate of patient injuries and complications drops significantly.

Today, common bile duct injuries should occur in less than 1% of cases.  To avoid these injuries, surgeons should: (1) perform laparoscopic surgery rather than open surgery only when the surgeon is able to adequately visualize all organs, biliary ducts, and anatomy; (2) allow adequate time to perform both a laparoscopic and, if needed, open surgery; (3) be prepared to convert from a laparoscopic surgery to an open surgery if necessary; (4) never rush; (5) skeletonize structures if that is necessary in order to view the cystic duct and cystic artery; and (6) obtain the Critical View of Safety.  Failure to do one or more of these things can result in a common bile duct injury and form the basis for a medical malpractice case in Florida.

Litigation Related to Common Bile Duct Injuries

Doctors sued after negligently transecting the common bile duct during gallbladder surgery may defend a lawsuit by arguing that this injury is a “known complication.”  That is usually not a credible defense and a red herring.  While it is true that injuries to the common bile duct may occur in the absence of negligence, we believe the root cause of these injuries is more commonly the failure to adhere to commonly accepted surgical practices.  If a surgeon obtains the Critical View of Safety, properly identifies the gallbladder, cystic duct, cystic artery, common hepatic duct, and other nearby structures, then there is no reason that surgeon should negligently transect the common bile duct.  Trained surgeons should know when it is necessary to perform an open procedure rather than a laparoscopic procedure, when they must skeletonize the structures around the gallbladder, and when it is safe to begin removing a patient’s gallbladder.  Simply put, a surgeon should never cut anything unless he or she is first certain what it is they are transacting.

Bile Duct Injury Lawyers in Miami and South Florida

If you or a loved one were injured by medical malpractice in Miami or South Florida, please contact Viñas & DeLuca, PLLC for a free and confidential consultation by calling (305) 372-3650.  There is never a fee or cost to you unless our law firm can recover money for you.  You can also complete our Free Case Evaluation Form or easily chat with us online, and one of our experienced Florida personal injury attorneys will contact you right away. We are here 24/7/365 to speak with you and answer your questions. If you cannot come to us, we will come to you.