Articles Posted in Anesthesia Malpractice

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A Pennsylvania jury this month awarded $12.7 million to a woman who suffered brain damage after her physicians prematurely removed her breathing tube at the conclusion of a routine tonsillectomy.  At the time of the procedure, the woman was a 33 year-old special education teacher.  The crux of the allegation was that the surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetist did not properly evaluate whether the anesthesia had worn off enough for her breathing tube to safely be removed.  After the breathing tube was removed, it was alleged that the health care providers did not monitor the woman’s oxygen levels for sixteen minutes and when they finally did, it showed an oxygen lever of 81 percent, which her lawyers described as “dangerously low.”  She was re-intubated but was unresponsive and exhibiting seizure-like involuntary limb movements.

The defendants’ position was that the woman did not suffer an anoxic brain injury but instead had an abnormal reaction to the anesthesia, which could not have been foreseen.  They also argued that the woman’s symptoms were the result of a psychological conversion disorder, in support of which they pointed to her history of depression.

The jury found the anesthesiologist to be 70% responsible and the nurse to be 30% responsible.  The jury assigned no liability to the surgeon who performed the tonsillectomy.  While her short-term cognitive issues have mostly resolved, the woman continues to suffer from significant physical impairments including a foot drag and the inability to lift her right leg.  The jury’s award included $5.85 million for past and future lost wages and past and future pain and suffering.  The remainder of the verdict was for her medical care for the rest of her life expectancy.

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Last month, a Fairfax County, Virginia jury returned a verdict of $500,000 against a Bethesda, Maryland based anesthesiologist for her conduct during a colonoscopy procedure she oversaw. As reported by multiple news outlets, as the Plaintiff, a Virginia man, prepared for his colonoscopy in a medical suite, he pressed the record button on his smartphone, in an effort to capture the post-operative instructions that anticipated his doctor would give him. His smartphone, which was in his pants pocket and placed under the operating table during the procedure, ended up recording the entire procedure. When he returned to his home, the man pressed play and was shocked at what his phone had recorded. In short, what he heard was the entire operating room team, including his anesthesiologist and gastroenterologist, openly and viciously mocking him while he under anesthesia. For example, at the outset of the procedure, a medical assistant noted that the man had a rash. In response, the anesthesiologist warned her not to touch it, tell the young woman that she “might get some syphilis on your arm or something” then adding, “it’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.” The anesthesiologist was also recorded telling the sedated man that “after five minutes of talking to you in the pre-op…I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a bit.” In addition to the shocking commentary, the health care providers also instructed an assistant to lie to the man after the procedure and how the doctors would endeavor to avoid him after the colonoscopy. Lastly, the doctors also discussed placing a false diagnosis on his chart – stating that the man had hemorrhoids, when in fact he did not.

In reaching its ruling, the jury awarded the man $100,000 for defamation (spoken untruths), $200,000 for medical malpractice and $200,000 in punitive damages. Importantly, although the conversations were confined to the operating room and operating room team, Virginia law clearly stated that slander like the comments made by the health care providers need not be widely published, but rather, need only be said by one party to another and be understood by the second party as being a true fact, when in fact it is not. Although the defense attorneys attempted to argue that the comments were privileged communications between physicians regarding the diagnosis/condition of the plaintiff, the trial court disagree, noting that the conversations far exceeded the scope of the colonoscopy and involved multiple other health professionals in the operating suite. The defense lawyers also attempted to argue that the recording had been made illegally, however, Virginia is what is known as a “one party consent” state, meaning only one person has to agree to the recording for it to be legal.

This verdict has been widely described as one of the first of its kind by legal practitioners and scholars. Given the advances and pervasiveness of today’s technology, this author theorizes that it likely will not be the last. Although patients who are undergoing more traditional types of surgeries likely will not have cell phones or other recording devices in operating rooms, with more and more procedures taking place in office-type surgical suites, physicians must now be cognizant of not only how the perform a procedure, but the things they say during it regarding a patient. Cases such as this one only further strengthen the position of advocates for cameras in all operating rooms so that patients can be sure their rights are not being violated and that the skills of their surgeons can be checked and reviewed in the event of something going awry.

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When you hear the words “medical malpractice,” what is the first thought that comes to mind? For most people, it probably is that a hospital or physician made a serious medical mistake. However, medical malpractice does not just cover physicians and their medical team, but dentists, too. And sometimes dentists can make tragic mistakes.

Just a few weeks ago, the family of a three-year-old girl filed a medical malpractice suit against their daughter’s dentist after a routine root canal procedure caused her to sustain permanent and severe brain damage and eventually die in hospice a month later. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

Last November, the mother took her daughter to a pediatric dentist in their native town of Kailua, Hawaii. Although only three years old, the young girl needed several fillings and root canals. On December 3rd, the young girl returned for her procedure. At that time, her dentist administered a strong mix of five different sedatives and anesthesia. However, the girl’s vitals were not monitored afterward; rather she was left unattended for more than 25 minutes. This medical negligence caused the young girl to go into cardiac arrest and ultimately lapse into a non-responsive state. Additionally, because the dental staff was not prepared for it, the young girl did not receive immediate CPR and had to be rushed to a neighboring pediatric practice for emergency assistance.

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In late March, a Maryland teen died at Johns Hopkins Hospital after she was deprived of oxygen during routine wisdom tooth surgery. Her parents have since brought a medical malpractice suit against the oral surgeon and anesthesiologist who performed the dental procedure.

At the outset of the surgery, the teen was administered a standard dose of anesthesia. This dose was not sufficient to perform the surgery and an additional dose was administered. Shortly afterwards, the teen’s heart rate began to slow.

The medical malpractice suit, brought in Howard County, alleges that the doctors were negligent in their care of the teen. The suit states that they committed a serious medical error when, during the course of the surgery, the teen’s heart rate slowed to 40 beats per minute and her oxygen level began to drop, but doctors failed to resuscitate her. By the time emergency personnel arrived, the teen had no pulse and had suffered permanent and irreversible brain injury.

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All Baltimore, Maryland hospitals have been sued for allegedly causing a patient to die due to medical malpractice and the University of Maryland hospital is no exception. For example, there is the case of Elliot Muti. This 65 year old man allegedly died of medical malpractice about a month and a half after he experienced a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Before he was treated at the University of Maryland hospital, he underwent a cardiac catheterization which revealed a ninety-nine percent blockage of a heart artery that was not fit for a stent. He then was transferred to the University of Maryland hospital for heart bypass surgery. As part of this surgery, a tube was placed down Mr. Muti’s throat (intubation) to help him breathe. Later, the presence of air in the man’s chest cavity (a “pneumomediastinum”) was discovered. A bronchoscopy revealed an injury to the trachea. Ultimately, the man developed pneumonia, an abnormal heart rhythm (ventricular tachycardia), and kidney (renal) failure which led to his death. A copy the judicial opinion regarding the case can be found here.

Following his death, the man’s family filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death case against the University of Maryland hospital in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City. The trial court dismissed the case and the plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court reversed the trial court and sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the hospital’s anesthesiologist incorrectly inserted the intubation tube causing the injury to the trachea. There is also the question of whether the hospital’s employees should have diagnosed tracheal injury.

As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled a number of medical malpractice and wrongful death cases against the University of Maryland hospital. Filing a medical malpractice claim includes proving the that a duty of care was owed by the hospital to the patient, that the standard of care was breached, that the breach was a cause of an injury, and that damages resulted. They are extremely complicated and require expertise that most general personal injury attorneys do not have. To see some of the cases I have handled, click here.

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An Alabama jury has awarded $20 million in a medical malpractice case in which a woman died after receiving negligent anesthesia care. The woman, a wife and mother of two, died in 2006 after receiving anesthesia during exploratory surgery. The woman, who had been suffering from severe abdominal pain, aspirated bile from her stomach into her lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. The family claimed that the defendant doctors did not examine the woman’s abdomen or look at her medical records before the exploratory surgery, which would have revealed her risk factors for breathing fluid into her lungs. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled a number of medical malpractice cases, including some involving the negligent administration of anesthesia. In one case, a woman died from improper monitoring during anesthesia. In another case, a patient died of aspiration pneumonia during the days after surgery. These are tragic cases. They can easily be prevented with just even the minimum care and attention. To see some of the cases I have handled, click here.

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