Law Offices of David J. Hoey, PC

Frequently Asked Question: What are “never events”?

February 10, 2017 | By: David Hoey

What exactly is a “never event”? You may remember hearing a story on the nightly news about an operation on the wrong arm or an object being left in a patient after surgery. These are both cases of “never events”, though other types of events may also qualify as a “never event”, including falls, pressure ulcers (bed sores), improper restraint, contamination of drugs, suicide attempt, or sexual assault. Among the many considerations when choosing a reputable nursing home facility, the facility’s approach to handling serious safety events should be a factor in assessing the quality of care provided.

“Never events” are human mistakes that should never happen in a medical facility. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services defines “never events” as “errors in medical care that are clearly identifiable, preventable, and serious in consequence for patients and indicate a real problem in the safety and credibility of a healthcare facility”. 

Because Medicare and Medicaid do not reimburse hospitals or medical facilities for damages done to the patient during a “never event”, serious safety events go largely underreported to maximize the health facility’s profit. To combat the lack of responsibility taken during a never event incident, health facilities have recently changed their policies to include an open reporting culture within the facilities. 

While in a credible healthcare facility, it is the responsibility of the facility to take the necessary precautions in order to avoid a “never event”. Since 2002, the National Health Forum has decreased the number of “never events” by achieving a stronger commitment to reporting serious safety events, developing intervention procedures, and measuring subsequent outcomes.


However, “never events” are not yet completely avoidable and nearly 20% of all hospitals do not have a policy in place when “never events” occur. Because of this, the Leapfrog Group, an organization dedicated to eliminating medical error, has created a list of ethical suggestions to adhere to whenever a serious event takes place. 

  1. Apologize to the patient.
  2. Report the event. 
  3. Perform a root-cause analysis.
  4. Waive costs and fees related to the event.
  5. Provide hospital policy procedures to the patient.

Do not let a “never event” cause harm to you or your family. If a doctor or health facility has performed a medical procedure on you or a loved one without consent, it may be in your best interest to contact an attorney.