Anesthesia is an important type of medication because it helps patients get through necessary procedures and surgeries without experiencing pain or even being aware of what is happening. How these drugs work is still not well understood and it requires highly-trained professionals to administer them without harming the patient.
When something does go wrong with the administration of anesthesia, the consequences can be severe, even including the death of the patient. In many cases the mistake that causes so much harm leads to a malpractice case in which the patient or family claims that standard of care was not provided. If you have been in this situation, let a malpractice lawyer help you decide if you have a strong case.
What is Anesthesia and Anesthesiology?
Anesthesiology is an area of medicine dedicated to relieving pain and caring for and monitoring patients before, during, and after surgery. Many kinds of doctors may use local or regional anesthesia, an injection of a substance that numbs a small area of the body or blocks a group of nerves before a procedure. But only specially trained doctors and nurses administer general anesthesia, a gas or intravenous liquid that makes a patient unconscious or more relaxed and forgetful for a more involved procedure.
Local anesthesia comes with fewer risks, and general anesthesia can be very harmful, even life-threatening, if used inappropriately or if all of a patient’s existing health conditions are not known. Anesthesiologists are physicians who specialize in the use of anesthesia. They are assisted by nurse anesthetists and anesthesiology technicians or assistants. Potential risks of anesthesia include vomiting, headaches, pneumonia, heart problems, and brain damage.
Mistakes That Can Be Made with Anesthesia
Anesthesia is administered by specially-trained physicians because there are a lot of risks that come with making errors in or poor judgment of the amount or the type of anesthesia used. Anesthesiologists must take into account the patient’s weight and health, the procedure, any other medications, and any underlying health conditions. If something is missed the consequences can be serious.
There are many ways in which mistakes can be made with anesthesia, including choosing the wrong anesthesia, making a mistake in choosing the dose, administering the wrong medicine or dose, or using the equipment incorrectly or using faulty equipment. Other issues may come from failing to get informed consent from the patient, not recognizing that someone is having a bad reaction to anesthesia, failing to act quickly and treat a patient having side effects from anesthesia, or causing injury to a patient when administering the medicine.
When Anesthesia Mistakes are Malpractice
According to surveys of anesthesiologists, between 40 and 60 percent of professionals in this field have been sued by patients for malpractice. Not all of these cases are successful and not all mistakes made with anesthesia are found to be negligent. Malpractice requires proof that there was a duty to provide care, that the medical professional breached that duty, and that the breach resulted in serious harm and damages.
When it comes to anesthesia mistakes, those most likely to be identified in lawsuits are the anesthesiologist, a nurse anesthetist, or an anesthesiology technician. Proving that one or these professionals breached the duty to care for the patient by not providing the accepted standard of care means showing that a similar professional in the same situation would have done things differently.
Consequences of Anesthesia Mistakes
According to a survey of anesthesiologists there are several consequences that patients cited in lawsuits as the reasons they sued: overdoses, wrongful death, nerve or brain damage, surgical or dental injuries, infections, damage to the airway, and a heart attack during surgery. These are some of the more common things that can result from some kind of error in using anesthesia on a patient. One study found that 45 percent of anesthesia malpractice cases resulted in brain damage or death.
There are also many other complications that are possible with anesthesia errors, including birth defects, spinal cord injuries and paralysis, tinnitus, blurred vision, vein or artery damage, hyperthermia, organ damage, asphyxia, mental health issues due to trauma, coma, seizures, or stroke.
In addition to these types of harm, there may be many more damages that a patient experiences because of the initial mistake. These may include temporary or permanent injury or disability, lost wages or inability to work, emotional suffering for the patient or loved ones when a patient dies, chronic pain, medical bills, and much more.
Examples of Malpractice Involving Anesthesia
Anesthesia malpractice suits are not that uncommon, and there are many examples that illustrate what can go wrong when an anesthesiologist or assistant is careless. In one example, a plaintiff won $2.25 million by jury against an anesthesiologist and medical center for failure to meet the standard of care. The man was having eye surgery and went deeper into unconsciousness that he should have after a bad reaction to the anesthesia. He suffered brain damage as a result.
In another case of an anesthesia mistake, the family of a patient who died as a result of that error won a settlement of $10 million in their malpractice case. The patient was 80 years old and was undergoing exploratory surgery after surgery to treat ladder cancer. He suffered aspiration during the surgery and then pneumonia, which quickly led to his death. The family claimed in the case that the nurse anesthetist made critical errors in administering the anesthesia and that these led to the aspiration.
A tragic case of anesthesia error resulted in the death of a four-year-old boy. His mother took him to the dentist for crowns, and because the boy had trouble staying still, an anesthesiologist administered general anesthesia. After the procedure the boy failed to wake up, was rushed to the hospital, and died. An autopsy found that he died from an overdose of the anesthesia. The doctor responsible is being charged with malpractice and wrongful death.
These and other unfortunate cases of mistakes with anesthesia demonstrate just how devastating it can be when medical professionals do not use the best judgment or provide a full standard of care when preparing for and monitoring patients during surgery. Anesthesia errors can have very serious consequences, up to and including the death of the patient. If you think that you were the victim of an anesthesia mistake that constitutes negligence, you may have a case for malpractice. Let an experienced malpractice lawyer guide your next steps.