Anesthesia is regarded as one of the greatest achievements in medical history. It is the state of controlled, temporary loss of sensation and/or awareness induced for a variety of medical purposes. Anesthesia allows medical personnel to perform procedures without the patient feeling pain or being aware during an operation. Anesthesia comes in different forms, such as light sedation combined with local anesthesia (for a small area), or regional anesthesia (for a larger part of your body). However, depending on a patient’s health and the medical procedure, the most common is general anesthesia, which uses a combination of intravenous drugs and inhaled gasses (anesthetics) to put patients in a sleep-like state.
Though highly beneficial, there are some risk associated with administering anesthesia to a patient. Skilled specialists, called anesthesiologists, and certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) exercise extreme care and precision to ensure the patient is administered accurately, and then monitored during and after the procedure to manage the patient’s vital functions and breathing.
Although anesthesiologists take the upmost precaution when administering anesthesia, complications do occur. At times, these complications can be extremely severe, while others are even fatal.
When complications associated with anesthesia arise, it could come as a result of negligence on behalf of the anesthesiologist, or another medical professional. When this occurs, the injured party may have a medical malpractice claim. In some cases, in addition to the medical professional, the hospital or medical facility can be held liable for the negligence that occurred, based on two legal theories: (1) vicarious liability, meaning the hospital will be automatically liable for the negligence of the anesthesiologist-employee, or (2) negligent hiring, which means if the anesthesiologist was an independent contractor, then the hospital would be liable for negligently hiring him or her.
Determining whether the anesthesiologist is an employee or an independent contractor is a complex legal matter that involves looking into the employment contract between the anesthesiologist and the hospital/medical facility, including other factors, such as the degree of control the hospital/medical facility maintained over the anesthesiologist’s employment conditions and performance. Generally, the more control the hospital/medical facility has over the employment conditions and performance of the so called independent contractor, there is a higher likelihood a court would determine he or she was in fact an employee. Otherwise, if the independent contractor exercised more control of his or her duties and employment conditions, the contractor would likely be the sole defendant. Nevertheless, contacting an experience medical malpractice attorney is recommended to work through these challenges.
Some of the less severe cases of anesthesia-associated complications include moderate pain, nausea, vomiting, and temporary mental confusion. However, when a patient is improperly administered anesthetics or not properly monitored, more severe complications may include:
- Nerve damage
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Birth defects
One particular, and rather horrific, complication is called “Anesthesia Awareness.” Just as the name suggests, anesthesia awareness occurs when either too little anesthesia or delayed anesthesia results in the patient’s awareness, waking up, and/or ability to feel pain during the procedure. When this sort of complication occurs, the patient is paralyzed during the procedure and cannot move or communicate even though he or she is experiencing excruciating pain. As a result, the patient can suffer from long-term psychological and emotional damage. Other injuries may include: (1) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), (2) sleep disorders, (3) flashbacks, (4) panic and anxiety disorders, and more.
In some cases, the anesthesiologist or medical personnel may be negligent for not moving the patient periodically following a medical procedure. Some procedures require the patient to be in the prone or supine positions for long periods of time. Depending on how long the patients lays in these positions, he or she may experience optic nerve damage, which can lead to blindness. According to one report, about 2 of every 10,000 patients experience post-operative blindness. In most cases, this complication occurs during a back fusion surgery and cardiac surgery. It is the responsibility of the anesthesiologist who administered the anesthesia to monitor the patient post-operation and move him or her to avoid further complications.
The most common types of reported anesthesiologist mistakes include:
- Administering the wrong dosage
- Failing to properly monitor the patient
- Improperly intubating the patient
- Not providing proper surgical instructions/preparations
- Failing to monitor the delivery of oxygen to the patient
- Not recognizing complications as the develop
- Improperly evaluation a patient’s pre-existing conditions
According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), the most serious anesthesia-association complications are death, accounting for 26% of malpractice claims; nerve injuries 22% malpractice claims, permanent brain damage making up 9% of malpractice claims; and airway injury accounting for 7% of malpractice claims. The report further indicated that roughly 65% of anesthesiology malpractice claims result from anesthesia administered before a surgical procedure.
When a patient is undergoing a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, he or she is putting a great deal of trust in the anesthesiologists and other medical personnel. While the use of anesthesia is highly beneficial, it is not without risks. The majority of anesthesiology administration is executed safely and without complications, the reality is anesthesiology malpractice is not an uncommon occurrence. With that, catastrophic and fatal injuries may result. When a patient is injured as a result of this kind of malpractice, it could mean emotional, physical, and financial hardship for the patient and his or her family.
Building an anesthesia malpractice claim is not an easy task, which is why we recommend contacting an experienced and compassionate attorney that understand the level of compensation necessary to help you or your loved one. You may be entitled to compensation for the following compensation:
- Current and future medical bills
- Long-term disability
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and Suffering
- Long-term care expenses
- Burial expenses
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If you or a loved one have experience serious injuries or death as a result of anesthesia malpractice, please contact us. You will speak with one of our medical malpractice attorneys who can best answer your questions and go over your options. The initial consultation is free of charge.