How Much Compensation Can I Get for Unnecessary Surgery?

How much compensation you can get for unnecessary surgery depends on how serious the injuries are and how bad the medical negligence was. Especially egregious behavior can result in punitive damages which go above and beyond damages for lost income, caregiver expenses, special equipment, pain and suffering, and other types of damages. When asking yourself, “how much compensation can I get for unnecessary surgery,” speaking to a medical malpractice lawyer can help shed light on your situation.

Team of surgeons performing a surgery in an operating room.

Common Types of Unnecessary Surgeries

Unnecessary surgery is one of the most common and deadly types of medical malpractice. Frequent unneeded surgeries in the United States include knee and hip surgeries, heart stents, pacemakers, gallbladder removals, tonsillectomies, radical prostatectomies, and hysterectomies. One of the most common unnecessary surgeries, however, involves about one in every three babies.


About one-third of babies in the United States are born via C-section, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is alarming because, as the World Health Organization explains, C-section rates should be between 10% to 15% of births.

The likelihood of getting a C-section seems to depend on which hospital a mother goes to, as well as any expected complications. In the 1970s, C-section rates were in line with the WHO’s 10 to 15% recommendation, but have since ballooned. The reasons relate to, among other things, doctors’ casual attitudes about surgery, lack of awareness about the risks of C-sections, the side effects of common labor interventions, medical providers not giving women the informed choice for vaginal birth, and a low focus on women’s abilities to give birth. For instance, doula care involves continuous support during labor and hand-to-belly movements to turn a breech baby head-first. However, typical labor at a hospital involves medical care that does not prioritize careful positioning, movement, and patience.

Arthroscopic Partial Meniscectomy Knee Surgery

This procedure is prevalent, with about 700,000 performed yearly in the United States. The benefits of arthroscopic partial meniscectomy knee surgery should be obvious. In reality, they are anything but. Research indicates that the procedure delivers the same results after 12 months as placebo surgeries. The only apparent “bright spot” is the fact that the procedure is minimally invasive. However, any kind of surgery, even the least invasive ones, carries risks of complications during or afterward.

Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is another type of surgery that is done significantly more often than necessary. More than 17% of patients who get this procedure do so unnecessarily, according to studies published in Surgical Neurology.

This procedure aims to help alleviate back pain. Surgeons weld the small bones of the spine together, but the evidence is mixed at best regarding whether spinal fusion results in better patient outcomes than core strengthening, physical therapy, and less invasive methods.

Despite this lack of evidence, spinal fusion surgery is only getting more popular. Some agencies are taking note, though. One is the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Workers hurt on the job and who do not have serious injuries are required to undergo 60 days of other treatments before looking into spinal fusion. 

Other Unnecessary Surgeries

  • Up to 22.5% of implantable cardioverter-defibrillator surgeries are not necessary.
  • As many as 12% of angioplasty surgeries are not necessary.
  • As many as 70% of hysterectomies are considered potentially unnecessary.

Risks of Unnecessary Surgery

Many unnecessary surgeries are performed for one of two reasons: because surgeons have been trained to do it this way and do not “know better,” or because they have financial or reputational incentives for performing the procedure. Whatever the reasons, any type of surgery carries risks.

Numerous unnecessary surgeries are undiscovered, especially when the patient recovers just fine and the insurance company finds nothing amiss with the surgeon’s reasoning for the surgery. 

Sometimes, though, unnecessary surgeries take a grave turn. The dangers include bleeding, paralysis, infection, stroke, disability, and even death, as is possible with even the safest and most necessary surgeries. Surgeries also mean time off work and can lead to loss of income during recovery.

Common signs of medical malpractice and unnecessary surgery include a treatment or surgery that isn’t working (points to misdiagnosis), doctors giving little attention to patients’ questions and concerns about their diagnosis, conflicting second opinions, errors made during surgery, and an unusually involved or complicated treatment/surgery for a relatively minor condition. 

Even an understaffed doctor’s office or healthcare facility is an indicator of possible malpractice. It points to medical professionals who juggle too much and rush. They are more likely to misdiagnose, make mistakes, and forget things.

Can You Sue a Doctor for Unnecessary Surgery?

You can sue a doctor for unnecessary surgery in many situations. Your medical malpractice lawyer will discuss the particulars of your case with you and determine if a lawsuit is the best route. To sue, you must show that the surgeon was negligent and did you harm by means of negligence. If you were not injured during the unnecessary surgery, you likely do not have a claim.

A lawsuit also must show that doctors would typically take X and Y reasonable approaches, while yours apparently did not. Unnecessary surgery lawsuits proceed (or don’t) based on whether doctors offered appropriate treatments and made decisions that followed the appropriate standard of care for the situation.

Doctors can never guarantee results, and patient outcomes can vary dramatically, even if the particulars of their situations are similar. Second and third opinions are never a bad idea when doctors recommend surgery.

In Illinois, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date that the patient (or surviving family member) discovers the claim. Evidence may continue to weaken as you wait to file, so you do have to move decisively.

However, exceptions to the statute of limitations might apply. In Illinois, they include disability (patients are unable to file a claim), fraud (the doctors or healthcare facility withheld information or evidence on purpose), and victims who are minors (children younger than 18 have up to eight years but must file before their 22nd birthday).

Proving Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

You could show negligence in several ways. One method is to explain that the doctor never let you know about the risks and benefits of the surgery versus not having it. This goes against informed consent. You cannot give informed consent to surgery if you did not have a fair picture of your options in the first place.

Another way to prove negligence is to show that the surgery was performed on the basis of a misdiagnosis that a reasonable doctor would not have made. Negligence also occurs when your doctor jumps right into recommending surgery without first exploring reasonable alternatives.

Factors that your lawyer’s medical experts consider include the surgery’s complication rate, your health and medical condition before surgery, the explanation the doctor gave you about the surgery and its risks, common approaches for treating your condition, and post-surgery problems and complications. The medical experts also assess your doctor’s experience and medical findings.

How Much Compensation Can You Get for Unnecessary Surgery?

The amount of compensation you can get for unnecessary surgery depends on the extent of the injuries and the grossness of the negligence. Punitive damages are possible in cases of particularly egregious behavior.

You can get compensated for lost income, lost future earnings potential, medical expenses, caregiver services, special equipment, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other losses related to the unnecessary surgery.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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