The Basics of Medical Mistakes and Why They Can Happen to Anyone — Even Celebrities

A few years ago, Johns Hopkins shocked the world when its medical school published findings that showed medical errors to be the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

The study’s authors, led by Johns Hopkins Professor of Surgery Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H., argued that medical errors caused roughly 250,000 deaths each year and led to millions more injuries, disabilities, and conditions, some of which are or can become lifelong. All told, later studies showed, medical errors cost American citizens roughly $20 Billion each year.

Since Johns Hopkins published its report in 2016, no major advances in the medical industry have occurred to substantially lessen the risk patients take when they put their lives into the hands of hospitals and medical professionals.

Indeed, some of the conditions and factors that breed medical errors — overworked doctors and burnt-out hospital staff, chief among them — have only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with more patients visiting hospitals than ever before.

Sadly, it would seem the Johns Hopkins study that was published in 2016 is just as relevant today as it was six years ago.

Below we take a look at some of the more common types of medical errors, who they impact, and how nobody — not even the rich and famous — is immune.

What Are the Most Common Types of Medical Errors?

The unfortunate reality is medical errors happen with alarming frequency — and for many patients and their families, negligent medical care all too often means the difference between life and death.

According to research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), medical errors occur most frequently in stressful, fast-paced environments — conditions often found in emergency departments, intensive care units, and operating rooms.

According to the NIH, the most common types of medical errors are:

  • Adverse drug events
  • Burns
  • Equipment failure
  • Failure to provide prophylactic treatment
  • Falls
  • Improper transfusions
  • Misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis
  • Mistaken patient identities
  • Surgical errors
  • Under- or overtreatment
  • Wrong-procedure surgery
  • Wrong-site surgery

Diagnostic errors, such as misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, are especially common. Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate more than 100,000 Americans die or are permanently disabled each year from misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Among the more commonly missed or delayed diagnoses are cases of cancer, vascular conditions, and infections.

Medical errors are also common among children and infants.

Birth Injuries

The most common motor-function disability among children is cerebral palsy, a disorder that often results from mistakes made by doctors or other health care professionals before, during, or after delivery.

Other common birth injuries include:

Birth injuries can be costly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the average lifetime cost of care for someone affected by cerebral palsy is around $1 Million.

No One Is Immune From Medical Errors, Not Even Celebrities

Medical mistakes can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time — and regardless of wealth, status, and fame — no patient is immune.

Recently, comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the New York-based Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), claiming that his doctor failed to properly diagnose his illness, failed to refer to him a specialist who would best treat his illness, and performed negligent surgery, leaving Noah with permanent injuries that he will contend with for the rest of his life.

While Noah’s alleged malpractice case is among the more recent involving celebrities, he is far from the only famous person to have experienced a doctor’s mistake.

Other famous cases include:

  • Julie Andrews: The famed actress known for her roles in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins among many other titles, was the alleged victim of a botched throat surgery, which led to the end of her singing career.
  • Dana Carvey: Former cast member of Saturday Night Live and famed actor of Wayne’s World Dana Carvey allegedly had the wrong artery operated on by his heart surgeon, leading to long-term injury and recovery.
  • Hulk Hogan: Wrestling superstar and WCW World Heavyweight Champion allegedly experienced medical malpractice when a Florida-based practice worsened the wrestler’s spinal conditions, putting his wrestling career on hold for two years.

Other famous cases of alleged medical malpractice involve Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Marlyn Monroe, and dozens of other singers, actors, and celebrities.

Moving on From Medical Errors

It can take a long time to heal from or move past injuries sustained as a result of medical malpractice. As demonstrated in the recent medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Trevor Noah, medical mistakes can also cause severe mental anguish, permanent disfigurement, and necessitate costly procedures to address, reverse, or “fix” the harm that has been done.

For many, a medical malpractice lawsuit is one of the only forms of recourse injured patients and their families have in the case of medical negligence or wrongful death. A leading national law firm, Sokolove Law has helped patients injured by medical mistakes and their families for more than 45 years.

If you’ve been injured as a result of an error (or errors) made by a doctor or hospital, you may be eligible for compensation from the parties responsible for your injuries.

To learn more about your legal rights, contact Sokolove Law today for a free, no-obligation case review.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: May 24, 2024

  1. Community Contributor, Jdoro. “Top 22 Celebrity Victims Of Medical Malpractice.” Buzzfeed, 18 Sept. 2018. Retrieved Jan 6, 2022, from
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 3 May 2016. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2022, from
  3. Polyniak, Kim. “The ‘Big 3’ in Diagnostic Errors.” Hopkins Medicine, 2019 Fall. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2022, from
  4. Respers France Lisa. “Trevor Noah files suit against New York hospital claiming negligence.” CNN, 21 Dec. 2021. Retrieved Jan 7, 2022, from
  5. Rodziewicz, Thomas, et al. “Medical Error Reduction and Prevention.” U.S. National Institutes of Health and Human Services, 6 Aug. 2021. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2022, from
  6. Sipherd, Ray. “The third-leading cause of death in US most doctors don’t want you to know about.” CNBC, 22 Feb. 2018. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2022, from