Medical errors kill between 250,000 and 440,000 patients in the United States each year. The lower estimate of the terrible toll taken by the mistakes of doctors, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers comes from researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The group tabulated deadly outcomes from “1) an error in judgment, skill, or coordination of care; 2) diagnostic error; 3) a system defect resulting in death or a failure to rescue a patient from death; or 4) a preventable adverse event.” The last category includes problems like wrong site or wrong patient surgery; drug overdoses, interactions or allergies; leaving objects inside patients following surgery; postsurgical infections; and anesthesia errors.

The researchers also stressed that “10 percent of all U.S. deaths are now due to medical error.” This puts mistakes made in hospitals, clinics and pharmacies third on the list of leading causes of deaths for Americans, trailing only cancer and heart disease.


The nonprofit Patient Safety America arrived at the higher number by reviewing a wide array of reports on patients’ deaths for “specific evidence … such as medication stop orders or abnormal laboratory results, which point to an adverse event that may have harmed a patient.” The review also revealed that “serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm.”

As medical malpractice attorneys practicing in Virginia and North Carolina, we have helped dozens of victims of medical, surgical and pharmacy errors. Our notable cases include

The thing about medical errors is that almost all of them can be avoided. When preventable mistakes harm or kill patients, the negligent people must be held accountable via medical malpractice claims.