Surgeons and other medical practitioners may find themselves liable for negligence over mistakes made while providing patient care. As reported by CNBC, medical errors are responsible for at least 250,000 U.S. deaths each year.

Heart disease accounts for the highest number of annual fatalities, followed by cancer. Mistakes and mishaps fall in third place, according to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number of errors that allegedly contribute to patients’ deaths, however, may be greater because mistakes often go unnoticed. Doctors and hospitals, however, owe a duty of care to exercise caution and prevent mishaps that may cause harm to their patients.

Systematic defects such as technological breakdowns, staffing issues and wrong dosages could have harmful effects on patients. Because doctors, nurses and hospital staff can often prevent these types of errors and mishaps from occurring, a harmed patient may result in legal action.

A mistake occurring during treatment may require an injured patient to endure unnecessary surgeries or treatments. In one such case, a Massachusetts surgeon mistakenly made cuts to an incorrectly identified duct and artery during a laparoscopic gallbladder procedure. The harmed patient required a significant amount of reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.

The patient filed legal action. The mistake required more than additional surgery; there was a nine-month recovery period. The patient could not work during that time, and a jury awarded her damages of $1.25 million, as reported by The Boston Globe.

As noted by a prominent patient-safety advocacy group, asking doctors more questions may provide a greater awareness of a proposed treatment’s benefits and risks. Obtaining a second opinion may also help to avoid potential medical mishaps.