Medical malpractice is an area of law that involves physician errors during a medical procedure. Typically, these medical procedures are surgical operations. Surgeries often require a doctor to administer anesthesia. There are three major types of anesthesia.
Local anesthesia numbs the patient to proceed with minor surgical procedures without feeling pain. General anesthesia renders a patient unconscious so that surgeons may safely operate on them. Regional anesthesia is used to numb specific areas of the body.
Anesthesia is a risky part of any surgery. There is some level of risk involved with any procedure requiring anesthesia. Although numerous factors can cause anesthesia errors, negligence is most often the cause. When a medical professional fails to provide the proper standard of care, the doctor or anesthesiologist may be accountable for any resulting injuries.
Who Administers Anesthesia?
An anesthesiologist is a licensed doctor who specializes in administering anesthesia. It generally takes an anesthesiologist a full 12 years to become board certified after high school. Anesthesiologists practice one of the most difficult and highly-paid forms of medicine. Anesthesiology can also be one of the most dangerous fields since complications of administering anesthesia can lead to paralysis, coma, and death.
Before any medical procedure requiring anesthesia, an anesthesiologist will review the patient’s medical history. Anesthesiologists also review the patient’s medical history, prior medications, and allergies to determine the best combination of drugs to use.
What are Anesthesiologists Responsible For?
One of the most important duties of an anesthesiologist is to monitor the unconscious patient during an operation. An anesthesiologist must look for early warning signs of any adverse changes to the patient’s body. If the anesthesiologist carelessly monitors a patient or forgets to do so, it may constitute medical malpractice.
An anesthesiologist must also update the anesthesia record. All anesthetic events must be documented because this record is the only time-dependent trail of what happened throughout the operation. Suppose the anesthesiologist does not accurately update this record and future injury results because another doctor did not have accurate information. In that case, the anesthesiologist will be responsible for damages.
An anesthesiologist also needs to be aware of any allergies or negative reactions the patient previously experienced with anesthesia. Anesthesiologists need to stay educated about new medical discoveries and phenomena.
For example, anesthesiologists need to know the truth about “anesthesia awareness,” where the patient is fully conscious and feels the excruciating pain of the operation yet is completely paralyzed and cannot move a muscle.
What are the Most Common Anesthesia Errors?
The most common types of anesthesia errors are:
- Failure to obtain patient’s consent to administer anesthesia;
- Failure to check whether a patient is allergic to the anesthesia administered;
- Inserting the medication into the wrong location;
- Failure to check the patient’s breathing while the patient is under general anesthesia;
- Using the wrong type of drug or the wrong amount of drug; and
- Administering an inadequate amount of drugs.
General anesthesia slows the body’s natural throat functioning, including swallowing, gagging, and coughing. When food or liquid becomes stuck in the respiratory tract, patients are in danger. A tube may be inserted into a patient’s trachea to avoid aspiration. However, this tube may create respiratory troubles, such as muscle spasms in the larynx and bronchial tubes. Endotracheal tubes may also trigger hypertension and increase heart rate. Additional complications may include damage to the mouth, voice, and hoarseness.
Serious side effects from general anesthesia may include stroke or heart attack. Serious illness, injury, or death caused by anesthesia is rare, but a surgical procedure error usually causes it.
What Are Some Common Injuries Resulting from Anesthesia Errors?
Anesthesia errors can result in injuries that range from minor to very serious and, in some cases, life-threatening. Some common injuries caused by anesthesia errors may include:
- Feelings of discomfort (either localized or general feelings);
- Dizziness and nausea;
- Stomach and digestion issues;
- Effects on heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs;
- Temporary or permanent brain damage or loss of certain brain functions; and
- Unconsciousness or coma.
In some cases, anesthesia errors can also result in fatalities. This is especially the case for general anesthesias where the error has affected the person’s vital signs. In such cases, a wrongful death claim may follow.
What are the Legal Remedies in an Anesthesia Error Lawsuit?
Anesthesia errors may require legal action to resolve any disputes or issues associated with the error and injury. In such lawsuits, the legal remedy will usually be comprised of a monetary damages award to the injured party.
The damages may cover costs and losses such as additional medications, medical and hospital bills, any lost wages caused by the error (often due to missing work during recovery), pain and suffering, and other costs.
As mentioned, cases involving a fatality may also include damages to cover wrongful death costs. In cases involving particularly negligent or reckless conduct, or intentional conduct, punitive damages may also be awarded on top of the other damages.
Each state may have different laws regarding damage amounts and limitations on the awards. Many jurisdictions place a cap on medical malpractice awards in general.
Anesthesia malpractice can happen during the pre-operation medical review or during the procedure itself. If an anesthesiologist fails to properly review a patient’s medical records, the anesthesiologist may administer drugs to which the patient is allergic and cause injury or death.
Some patients may be taking medications that negatively interact with the anesthetic used during surgery. If a dangerous combination of anesthesia and medication is taken, it may lead to a patient’s death. Patients trust their anesthesiologists to take proper precautions to prevent these types of errors. When a medical professional misadvises a patient, does not properly administer anesthesia, or fails to provide follow-up care, an injured patient has the legal right to hold the medical professional accountable.
The following common anesthesia errors may result from medical negligence:
- Anesthesia dosage error
- Delayed delivery of anesthesia
- Patient monitoring failures
- Dangerously prolonged sedation
- Failure to recognize and respond to anesthesia complications
- Failure to properly inform a patient of instructions for before, during, or after the procedure
- Faulty equipment
- Shutting off the alarm on the pulse oximeter
- Failure to intubate
The consequences of anesthesia errors depend on the type of medical mistake made and the response by the medical team. The most common injuries caused by anesthesia include heart attack, stroke, spinal cord injuries, asphyxia, trachea damage, brain damage, coma, and death.
Should I Consult a Lawyer About an Anesthesia Error?
Anesthesia errors are often traumatic, if not outright fatal, for the patient. An overdose of anesthesia can cause permanent brain damage. Anesthesia awareness can also be a major problem. If the patient is not given enough anesthesias, the patient can be emotionally and mentally traumatized. If an anesthesia error has injured you or a loved one, an experienced personal injury attorney can represent you.
Consider using LegalMatch’s services today to secure a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in your area. Confidentiality is always guaranteed.