Your Guide to Anesthesia Medical Malpractice
The first documented use of anesthesia in a surgical procedure occurred in 1846. As the Australian Society of Anesthetists (ASA) noted in a retrospective, “Before that, the few operations that were possible were carried out either with no pain relief or after a dose of opium and/or alcohol.”
The ASA further noted that anesthesia in the modern sense began in the 1960s, when “the development of new drugs and the availability of new monitoring techniques and equipment” made it possible for surgeons to perform more complex procedures on a wider range of patients.
But as far as anesthesia has come, it is still dependent on human doctors making decisions about when, where, and how much anesthesia to administer. Mistakes are inevitable in any profession. But when an anesthesiologist makes a mistake, the consequences for the patient can be catastrophic. In many cases, such negligence provides the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the anesthesiologist and other members of the medical team that treated the patient.
What Can Go Wrong With Anesthesia?
There are four basic types of anesthesia: general, monitored, regional, and local. General anesthesia renders the patient completely unconscious. Monitored anesthesia or sedation for certain procedures like a colonoscopy. Regional anesthesia is limited to a portion of the body, such as the spinal cord. Local anesthesia is only applied to a small part of the body, such as the gums during a dental procedure.
With all three types of anesthesia, there are a variety of complications that can arise. Some of these are just mild side effects like nausea, vomiting, or temporary confusion. But the more serious and life-threatening complications can include the following:
In some cases, a patient may experience a severe (and possibly fatal) allergic reaction to anesthesia, which is known as anaphylaxis.
This refers to a situation where general anesthesia fails and the patient regains consciousness during a surgical procedure.
A patient who is kept unconscious in the same position for several hours can develop life-threatening blood clots if they are not properly monitored.
Improper use of anesthesia can deprive the brain of oxygen, leading to permanent brain damage.
This is a rare genetic condition that causes a patient to react negatively to anesthesia and, if untreated, can lead to life-threatening organ failure.
The patient can suffer a sore throat, damage to the larynx, pneumonia, and other breathing problems.
If medical personnel are reckless when intubating a patient for general anesthesia, they can crack or otherwise damage the patient’s teeth.
Other potential complications from improper administration or management of anesthesia include blurred vision, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), spinal cord injuries, seizures, and strokes.
Common Causes of Medical Malpractice in Anesthesiology
Any medical procedure involves some level of risk. This is especially true when it comes to receiving anesthesia. Not every complication arising from anesthesia is considered medical malpractice under New York law. But certain common mistakes can be considered negligent. Here are a few case examples:
- The anesthesiologist does not properly screen the patient before a surgical procedure and fails to learn about a critical allergy to certain types of anesthesia.
- The anesthesiologist prescribes or administers an incorrect dosage of anesthesia, which can either lead to an overdose (causing potential brain damage) or anesthesia awareness because the patient wakes up due to insufficient anesthesia.
- Medical staff fails to install (or remove) an intubation tube for anesthesia correctly, which can paralyze the patient’s vocal cords and in some cases lead to a stroke or heart problems.
- The anesthesiologist fails to properly monitor the patient during surgery and fails to notice a complication
- The hospital discharges a patient before they have fully regained consciousness after being under anesthesia, leading the patient to sustain an injury after leaving the facility.
Data & Statistics on Anesthesia Medical Malpractice
The statistics regarding anesthesia medical malpractice give us some idea of the most common injuries reported by patients. For instance, a 2014 study based on data collected from a large national malpractice insurer found that in 607 medical malpractice cases involving anesthesia, teeth damage, death, and nerve damage were the three more commonly reported complications. The average settlement in the cases reviewed was $309,066, which was higher than the average for all physical specialties.
It is also worth noting that medical malpractice involving anesthesia is not necessarily due to the incompetence of the anesthesiologist. It may be the result of overwork or insufficient staffing by the hospital. A 2022 study published by JAMA Surgery found that there was a 14 percent higher risk of death for patients under anesthesia when an anesthesiologist was required to supervise “3 or 4 overlapping operations” at the same time. In other words, the more procedures an anesthesiologist is required to observe simultaneously, the more likely that something will go fatally wrong with at least one of those patients.
The use of residents and other doctors-in-training to perform anesthesia work can also be a contributing factor in malpractice cases. A 2020 study of medical malpractice lawsuits involving anesthesiology residents found that in 90 cases reviewed, injured patients received a median settlement or judgment of $4,250,000–and in some cases as much as $55.6 million.
Contact a New York City Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today
If you, or someone in your family, has been seriously injured or killed as the result of an anesthesiologist’s negligence, you must act quickly to preserve your rights under the law. New York has a 30-month statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases. This may sound like a lot of time, but given the complexity of assembling a proper malpractice case, it is often not as much time as you would think.
That said, a successful lawsuit can yield substantial compensation for a patient’s economic and non-economic losses, including their ongoing pain and suffering. So if you need to speak with a qualified New York medical malpractice attorney, contact Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C., today to schedule a free consultation.