For many surgical procedures, anesthesia is a critical component. However, there are serious risks and consequences when mistakes are made. Some of the most severe results of anesthesia errors are brain injuries. For this reason, the administration of anesthesia must be carried out by a trained anesthesiologist who understands their duty to provide great care and precision in their work. When anesthesia errors and brain injuries occur because of a medical provider’s failure to achieve the expected standard of care, they may be liable for the harm that resulted. If you or a loved one has been impacted by anesthesia errors, it is important to understand your legal right to seek justice and financial recovery.
Medical Malpractice and Anesthesiologists
It is the job of an anesthesiologist to monitor vital indicators of the patient’s health during surgery. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who have specialized in managing pain and sedation associated with surgery and other medical procedures. Becoming an anesthesiologist requires extensive education and training which can require 12 to 14 years of formal education after high school before an individual can even apply for full certification. For an anesthesiologist, making a mistake could make a huge difference in someone’s well-being, including their cognitive function, and life expectancy. Many anesthesia errors pose a high risk of death if not immediately addressed.
Anesthesiologists are held to the same standard of care as other medical doctors. In New Jersey, a medical provider’s actions are evaluated for negligence by determining whether another healthcare provider with similar education and knowledge would have performed the same action or inaction if they were in the same position. In other words, was the healthcare provider’s action reasonable according to accepted standards of care? If the actions were not reasonable and resulted in actual harm to a patient, the patient or their family may be eligible to file a medical malpractice claim for anesthesia errors and brain injuries.
How Do Anesthesia Errors and Brain Injuries Occur?
There are a lot of things that an anesthesiologist must be hyper-aware of when monitoring a patient including blood fluid levels, blood pressure, oxygenation, and other vital statistics. Any small amount of distraction could lead to an error. A distracted or inattentive anesthesiologist may fail to notice that a vital systems alarm has been turned off, or fail to recognize signs of distress. Particular types of anesthesia errors that can lead to brain damage include:
Appropriate dosing of anesthesia is crucial. Too much or too little anesthesia can result in adverse effects. Underdosing may result in the patient waking up while surgery is in progress, while overdosing may lead to respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, and not waking up at all.
The brain requires a continual flow of oxygen to keep brain cells alive. Failure to monitor blood fluid and blood pressure can result in strokes and irreversible brain damage.
One of the primary reasons patients are instructed not to eat before surgery is to avoid vomiting while under anesthesia. If a patient inhales vomit back into the lungs and it goes undetected, the vomit can obstruct breathing, decreasing blood and oxygen to the brain.
In some situations, anesthesiologists must intubate the patient during surgery, which involves the placement of a tube into the patient’s trachea to open up the airway. This enables the patient to breathe under general anesthesia. Improper intubation, premature removal of the tube, or failure to secure the tube can result in oxygen deprivation.
Inadequate Post-Op Monitoring
All patients should be monitored after surgery, but one who is administered too much anesthesia during the procedure requires additional monitoring and potentially additional time in the hospital. If the hospital mistakenly places the patient on a regular floor where oxygen levels are not constantly monitored, the consequences could be serious, if not fatal.
Who Is Liable for Anesthesia Errors?
The anesthesiologist is not the only healthcare provider whose negligence can lead to complications under sedation. A nurse who administers or a physician who prescribes the wrong medication or medication dose could impact interactions under anesthesia. Similarly, a healthcare provider who fails to provide adequate pre-surgical instructions or makes a clerical error in the patient's report could be liable for their negligence.
Patient charts are the source of truth for important information about the patient’s health and basic information. The wrong notes pertaining to age, allergies, family history, medications, weight and other facts could result in the wrong type or amount of anesthesia being administered which could be the fault of an administrator or the medical facility.
How Do I Seek Compensation for Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one is coping with the aftermath of anesthesia errors and brain injuries, you are likely overwhelmed with adjusting to what may be a new normal. Here is the general process for seeking compensation.
Find a New Healthcare Provider
If the harm was caused by a physician rather than an anesthesiologist whom you are not likely to have any further interaction with or a facility where you are receiving ongoing care, find a new healthcare provider and follow their treatment plan. Do not discuss the malpractice case with the negligent provider or facility and do not post about it publicly.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Your medical malpractice attorney can help you determine who should be held liable for the anesthesia errors that caused the injury, and how much your claim is actually worth taking into consideration the physical, mental, and financial harm that has been caused. They can also negotiate on your behalf, make sure the proper paperwork is filed, and take your case to trial.
File a Complaint and Affidavit of Merit
After a complaint has been filed with the court, you have 60 days to provide an “Affidavit of Merit.” This document is a written statement from a medical expert asserting that the healthcare provider’s actions were negligent. If the statement is accepted, you may proceed with your claim.
Settlement and Trial
The negligent healthcare provider or facility may choose to offer a settlement and avoid costly litigation. Never accept a settlement that is less than what you deserve. Your medical malpractice attorney can negotiate for a higher amount, recommend acceptance of the offer, or suggest that you go to trial.
Anesthesia errors and brain injuries are highly preventable and the sad fact is that they too often occur due to the negligence of anesthesiologists and other healthcare providers. O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble have a history of successful medical malpractice representation and have earned multiple verdicts in excess of $20 million for our clients who have been wronged by healthcare providers. Contact us to schedule your free case consultation.