Nearly everyone receives anesthesia during his or her lifetime, whether it’s administered by a local injection at the dentist’s office or via a mask over the nose and mouth to cause unconsciousness prior to surgery.
Anesthesia is a drug-induced state that allows patients to undergo medical procedures by blocking sensations, particularly pain. The three main types of anesthesia are:
- General – the patient is completely unconscious (e.g., abdominal surgery like appendix removal).
- Local – anesthesia is applied to a small portion of the patient’s body (e.g., numbing during a dental procedure).
- Regional – hip fractures given their location are anesthetized via injection (g., spinal block).
Though commonly used, anesthesia is not without risk. Injuries – even death – can result from too much, too little, or the wrong type of anesthesia. Mistakes made during or after the administration of anesthesia may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the anesthesiologist and the hospital or medical facility where the error occurred.
Some of the most common and less severe patient complaints after anesthesia are pain, nausea, vomiting, temporary mental confusion, and a sore throat due to the insertion of a breathing tube.
However, a patient can be severely injured if anesthesia is improperly administered or if the patient is not appropriately monitored. These injuries include:
- Larynx damage or tooth damage due to intubation
- Serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
- Brain damage
- Nerve damage
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Anesthesia awareness (patient regains consciousness during surgery)
A report detailing common anesthesia injuries indicated that the most serious complications associated with anesthesia are death (26 percent of malpractice claims); nerve injury (22 percent of malpractice claims); and permanent brain damage (9 percent of malpractice claims). This report also showed that more than half (65 percent) of anesthesiology malpractice claims are based on anesthesia administered before a surgical procedure.
Meanwhile, the most common types of reported anesthesiologist mistakes are:
- Administering the wrong dosage
- Improperly intubating the patient
- Failing to properly monitor the patient
- Not recognizing complications as they develop
- Failing to monitor the delivery of oxygen to the patient
- Not providing proper surgery preparation instructions
In addition to administering medication, anesthesiologists are responsible for ensuring that a patient is moved periodically after a lengthy surgical procedure. If a patient in the prone position is not moved, the optic nerve can be damaged, resulting in blindness. According to a 2015 report, post-operative blindness occurs in about two of every 10,000 surgeries and the procedures most likely to cause blindness are back fusion surgery and cardiac surgery.
Blindness is also a risk during cataract surgery. Notably, in May 2014, five patients who underwent cataract surgery at Cataract & Laser Center West in West Springfield, Massachusetts, discovered the next day they could not see out of the eyes that had been operated on. Specialists later concluded the anesthesiologist in the cases, Dr. Tzay Chiu, had possibly pierced their eyeballs or retinas with needles. It was Dr. Chiu’s first day on the job at Cataract & Laser Center West. He has since been sued for malpractice.
While anesthesiology malpractice takes on various forms, the primary cause of any medical malpractice claim is professional negligence.
Numerous factors must be considered when deciding whether to pursue an anesthesiology malpractice claim, including the patient’s pre-surgical risk factors and the complication rate for the type of anesthesia administered.
In some cases, it is also possible for the hospital or medical facility to be held liable for the negligence that occurred, based primarily on two legal theories:
- Vicarious liability – when the anesthesiologist is employed by the hospital, the hospital will automatically be liable for any negligence committed by its employee (the anesthesiologist).
- Negligent hiring and supervision – if the anesthesiologist is an independent contractor, the hospital may be held responsible.
Talk to an Experienced Anesthesiology Malpractice Attorney
Anesthesiology malpractice cases can be difficult to prove, which is why you need an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable in this area and has a track record of successful outcomes. If you’ve been harmed as a result of anesthesiology malpractice, you may be able to recover money damages for your injuries. Please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group today to schedule a consultation.