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While rare, postoperative vision loss leads to a devastating decrease in life quality. Unfortunately, medical negligence can result in permanent blindness after certain procedures, even those unrelated to the eyes. 

If you or someone close has suffered from vision loss due to neglectful care providers, you may be eligible for compensation by filing a postoperative vision loss lawsuit.

At Schmidt & Clark, LLP, our medical malpractice lawyers are here to support you if a medical error has occurred during your procedure.

Quick Summary

  • The most common causes of permanent postoperative vision loss (POVL) are central retinal artery occlusion, ischemic optic neuropathy, and cerebral vision loss.
  • While severe incidents can cause postoperative vision loss, medical malpractice is another major culprit.
  • Legal representation can help you gather evidence to win your medical malpractice case.

What Is Postoperative Vision Loss?

A patient in an eye doctor's officePostoperative visual loss (POVL) is a worrisome but rare side-effect of surgery, particularly following operations related to cardiac health and the spine, head, neck, or orthopedics. 

Central retinal artery occlusion, ischemic optic neuropathy, and cerebral vision loss mostly cause POVL [1]. 

POVL prevention strategies include early postoperative assessments and engaging in safe post-operative practices. This involves controlling blood pressure levels, monitoring vital signs, and avoiding extremes or changes in temperature or light exposure.

What Causes Postoperative Vision Loss?

A complication during head-neck, cardiac, and spinal surgeries is what causes postoperative vision loss [2].

A lack of oxygen during the surgery is generally the primary cause of this complication, allowing air bubbles or other particles to enter the eye, leading to inflammation and vision loss. 

In addition, the potential for infection increases when postoperative vision loss occurs due to bacteria invading the eye and causing damage to the retina or cornea. For this reason, precautions are taken prior to and during these surgeries in order to reduce the risk of postoperative vision loss. 

These measures include using a particular operating microscope, reducing pressure to increase oxygen delivery to the eye area, properly cleaning and sterilizing equipment used during surgery, and applying antibiotics before administration of a local anesthetic.

In the absence of these precautions, vision loss can occur, and there is ground for opening a medical malpractice case.

Related Article: Eye Surgery Malpractice Lawsuit

Ischemic Optic Neuropathy

A doctor looking for optic problems in a patientIschemic optic neuropathy is a form of optic nerve damage and one of the most common causes of vision loss, accounting for 89% of the cases [3].

The two types, anterior and posterior versions, both involve damage being done somewhere between blood supply and optics. 

While there is no cure or specific treatment, knowing more about this complication can help medical practitioners respond quickly, protect the unaffected eye, and avoid additional vision loss [4].

A patient may experience a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the temples and scalp;
  • Pain when chewing;
  • Fatigue and intense muscle soreness, especially in the upper arms and legs
  • Fever;
  • Neck pain;
  • An unshakeable feeling of tiredness;
  • Loss of appetite [5].

“There is no effective treatment for nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy. However, about one third of people with nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy have partial improvement of their vision spontaneously.” – John J. Cheng, Professor of Ophthalmology

Central Retinal Artery Occlusion

This vision-threatening condition, similar to an eye stroke, occurs when blood flow is blocked from reaching your retina. This blockage can be caused by a clot, an obstructed artery of the retina, or cholesterol buildup in vessels [6]. 

The most common sign is sudden blindness which may range anywhere from a full loss of sight to partial impairment. In addition, it’s particularly concerning if you have high blood pressure problems as well as diabetes or if you’re over 60 years old [7]. 

Cerebral Vision Loss

Cerebral vision loss, a disorder that primarily affects children, can be caused by many forms of brain damage. These range from oxygen deprivation or inadequate blood flow during birth to infections that strike the brains of newborns to head trauma suffered afterward in life [8].

What Are the Risk Factors for Postoperative Vision Loss?

A doctor looking at the eye of a patient for vision loss risks

The risk factors for postoperative vision loss are anemia, obesity, and diabetes. 

Positioning during the surgical process should also be taken into consideration when determining potential danger levels associated with surgery [9]. Additionally, your health condition before undergoing the operation can play a significant role in increasing the risk of postoperative vision loss.

Long Operative Times

Blood loss and oxygen deprivation are major dangers when a surgery extends past six hours. This prolonged period limits vital elements from reaching the brain and puts individuals at further risk of vision loss [10].

A surgery lasting longer than six hours may put a patient in grave danger; the immense pressure on their chest can harm its ability to sufficiently pump blood and oxygen throughout their body, leading them further away from healthy recovery.

Anemia or Other Blood Conditions

Additionally, anemia, which is characterized by low levels of healthy red blood cells needed to supply oxygen throughout your body, should be treated before any surgery takes place [11]. 

Prone Positioning During Surgery

Spinal or posterior head/neck surgeries require patients to lie flat on their chest, known as the ‘prone position.’ Unfortunately, this may also lead to more pressure being placed in some areas around the eye, causing an elevated corneal abrasion risk [12].

It is critical to understand the risks, etiologies, and measures readily available to avoid POVL following prone spinal surgery. The first line of defense is to choose your patients carefully, analyzing the import of their comorbid risk factors.
– Nancy E. Epstein, Neurologist

Other Common Risk Factors

A person suffering from vision loss

Other risk factors for postoperative vision loss are:

  • Sleep apnea;
  • High cholesterol (atherosclerosis);
  • Smoking;
  • Heart problems;
  • Obesity;
  • Increased anesthetic time (after five to six hours);
  • External pressure on the eye;
  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma (AACG). 

Medical Negligence in Postoperative Vision Loss

A doctor writing down on a book in a hospitalWhen negligence occurs, serious injuries can result from mistakes made during medical care, even something as simple as a doctor not responding to low blood pressure or anemia before surgery. 

During surgical procedures, they must maintain constant vigilance over patient positioning and other vital signs that could indicate danger if ignored. For example, loss of oxygen or too much blood requires swift action, such as transfusions.

When medical mistakes cause harm to a patient, it’s not just an unfortunate mistake – it can have life-altering consequences. Holding health professionals accountable is absolutely essential so that you and your loved ones get the care you deserve. 

If negligence on behalf of your doctor has caused damage in any form, be it physical or financial, you may be eligible for a medical malpractice lawsuit. You could recover lost wages, compensate for pain and suffering, cover expensive treatments, and more.

Surgery is a necessity no one takes lightly, and prior to the procedure, hospitals provide patients with consent forms outlining potential risks. 

However, suppose your healthcare provider hasn’t adequately disclosed potential complications, and something goes wrong during or after the procedure; you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the said hospital for breaching the standard of care.

Related Articles:


What Is the Most Common Cause of Postoperative Vision Loss?

The most common cause of postoperative vision loss is a corneal abrasion (a scratch on the cornea). Other causes of postoperative vision loss include infection, bleeding, and retinal detachment.

Can Vision Be Restored by Surgery?

Yes, vision can be restored by surgery in some cases. Some common surgeries that can be used to restore vision include cataract surgery, corneal transplant surgery, and glaucoma surgery. However, in some cases, the damage to the eye is too severe.

Consult  an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you suffered vision loss due to medical malpractice, take action and file a lawsuit to seek justice against those responsible and recover damages. 

Schmidt & Clark, LLP specializes in medical malpractice cases, so let us provide effective representation and help bring justice to your situation. 

With decades’ worth of successful cases under our belt, our medical malpractice lawyers are devoted to achieving positive outcomes on behalf of every client we take on. 

Contact us now for a free consultation.



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