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Can You Sue for Anesthesia Errors?

You can sue for anesthesia errors that result in injury or death. Like other medical mistakes, the injury victim can file a medical malpractice claim to recover damages. After a fatal anesthesia error, the family may be able to recover wrongful death damages to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. A medical malpractice law firm can help you understand your rights and legal options after an anesthesia error. 

Many medical offices take anesthesia for granted. It may be a common procedure but it should not be taken lightly. The drugs administered in anesthesia can sedate a patient for a medical procedure but the wrong dosage can cause serious injury. Anesthesiologists have to closely monitor a patient’s vital signs and drug levels before, during, and after surgery. When an anesthesiologist makes a mistake, it can cause permanent brain damage or death. 

It may be difficult to know if you suffered a medical injury because of a doctor’s negligence. Even if you suspect you were mistreated, the hospital may offer you no help. Instead, you can turn to an experienced medical malpractice law firm for legal advice. Med mal lawyers can review your case, identify medical negligence, and help you recover financial compensation for your losses.

The Effects of Anesthesia

Anesthesia is the practice of sedating a patient to undergo a surgical or invasive medical procedure. During an anesthesia procedure, the anesthesiologist uses a combination of drugs to make the patient unconscious, provide pain relief, and immobilize the patient. Anesthesia can be localized to the specific treatment area or general, affecting the entire body. 

General anesthesia is common in everyday medical procedures, from wisdom teeth removal to plastic surgery. To effect the loss of sensation, anesthesiologists may use a combination of gasses, drugs, and paralytics to control consciousness, sensation, and relaxation. Depending on the dosage, a patient can feel “twilight” disorientation to sleep to stopping the patient’s breathing. 

How Common Are Anesthesia Accidents?

According to an anesthesia study, between 1999 to 2006, there were more than 2,200 anesthesia-related deaths in the U.S. The most common cause of those anesthesia-related fatalities was an overdose of anesthetics (46.6%). Adverse effects of anesthetics (42.5%), was another leading cause of death. The fatality rate for men was almost twice as high as for women. 

How Can Anesthesia Go Wrong?

In a British study of 359 studied anesthesia-related preventable incidents, 82% of the incidents were caused by human error. The other incidents were related to equipment failure. Common ways anesthesia can go wrong include: 

  • Failure to properly monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • Too much anesthesia
  • Not enough anesthesia
  • Prescription errors
  • Communication errors or hand-off errors,
  • Adverse reactions
  • Intubation injuries.    

When anesthesia goes wrong, it can cause damage to the vital organs, including the brain. One of the most serious problems with anesthesia is that it can slow or stop breathing. When an unconscious patient stops breathing and is not immediately treated with oxygen, the oxygen deprivation can quickly lead to hypoxia, anoxia, cell death, and brain damage. This is one reason why it is so crucial to constantly monitor the patient’s breathing and blood-oxygen saturation. 

Breathing problems and lack of oxygen in anesthesia can be caused by too much anesthesia, intubation errors, or failure to monitor the patient. When properly monitored, the anesthesiologist has to act quickly when the patient is not getting enough oxygen. This may include altering the drugs administered to restore breathing, intubating the patient with a tube to get oxygen to the lungs, and emergency treatment if the patient goes into cardiac arrest. 

Other anesthesia errors can be caused by the type of drugs administered or the way the drugs are administered. Some patients have an allergic reaction to certain drugs and the anesthesiologist should be aware of the patient’s allergy history and medical history. The anesthesiologist should also be prepared to identify signs of an allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. 

Another way anesthesia administration can go wrong is through careless punctures or injections. An injection involves placing a needle or line into the bloodstream. During spinal anesthesia, medication is injected directly into the spinal canal. Improper practices can cause nerve damage, excess bleeding, or introduce infection into the patient’s body. 

What Can You Do After an Anesthesia Injury?

Many people feel lost after they suffer a medical injury. It seems like the doctor, the hospital, and even the insurance company have no interest in your questions. The difficulty in getting answers is why many people end up giving up, and just end up living with the injury. However, filing a medical malpractice claim does not only help you and your family, it can help others in the future. 

A medical malpractice lawsuit is a civil lawsuit to hold a negligent party liable for their mistakes. Medical malpractice claims require showing that the doctor or hospital had a duty to the patient, violated that duty, and caused injury or damage. After proving negligence, the party responsible may be liable for the injury victim’s damages. Damages in an anesthesia injury lawsuit can include: 

  • Medical bills
  • Cost of future care
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of earning potential
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of support

First Steps in a Medical Malpractice Claim

The first step in filing an anesthesia error lawsuit is finding out if you have a claim. Medical malpractice cases are complex and require an understanding of the law and medicine. This is why some law firms focus their practice on medical malpractice because it is a unique area of law. Malpractice law firms generally have medical experts they can consult with to evaluate a patient’s case. 

The attorneys and doctors can look at your medical records and talk about your experience to determine if there may have been a deviation from the standard medical care that caused the injury. If you have a claim, the next step may involve a demand letter or filing the medical malpractice claim in county court. Talk to your medical malpractice lawyer for more information about the process and how you can get started with your case. 

Chicago Anesthesia Errors

Chicago has some of the most advanced medical facilities in the country. However, even with top research hospitals, medical universities, and specialists, medical errors can still happen, including anesthesia errors. Anesthesia errors involving failure to monitor the patient can be fatal. 

A 39-year-old woman in Chicago underwent surgery for a stent replacement. Monitoring errors while under the effects of the drugs may have caused the woman to stop breathing and go into cardiac arrest. The patient lapsed into a coma and died 9 days later. The family was shocked to learn that death was caused by a preventable medical error. Hospital officials offered a financial settlement to provide for the victim’s two young daughters. 

Instead of covering up their errors, the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago had the family join the hospital’s safety review committee to make sure similar mistakes did not happen in the future. One immediate change was to require an anesthesia specialist to be present for the specific type of procedure. 

Many hospitals and anesthesiologists have since adopted national guidelines on the use of capnography to monitor an anesthesia patient’s carbon dioxide concentrations. Unfortunately, this family’s experience may not be typical. Other Chicago families who have suffered after a family member died from an anesthesia accident get no help from the hospital responsible. 

Did the Anesthesiologist Make a Mistake? 

How can the injured patient prove that the anesthesiologist made a mistake? In a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff has to show the doctor breached the standard of care which caused the injury. The standard for care is based on what another reasonable anesthesiologist would have done under similar circumstances. To help the jury understand whether the anesthesiologist deviated from the standard of care, they can hear from a medical anesthesia expert. 

Most people do not have the experience or skill to understand the exact practices and protocols for anesthesia. An expert witness can help the jury with their specific knowledge, skill, or education to make determinations based on medical treatment. A medical expert can provide an expert report based on the medical record and testify before the jury to help them decide whether the anesthesiologist made a mistake. 

How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?

There is a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice claim. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations puts a time limit on civil lawsuits and waiting too long may result in no recovery options. The time limit depends on the state where the injury occurred and other factors. This is why it is important to reach out for help as soon as possible. Your medical malpractice attorney can tell you more about the statute of limitations in your case. 

For example, in Illinois, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is two years. However, there is a discovery rule where the time limit does not begin to run until the injury victim knows about or reasonably should have known about the injury. However, in no event can a claim be brought more than 4 years from the date of the medical error.

The time limit is extended for minor injury victims. Under Illinois law, minors under the age of 18 have up to 8 years from the date of the injury to file a claim. However, no action for an injury to a minor may be filed after the minor victim reaches the age of 22. 

Baltimore Anesthesia Error Time Limits

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice in Maryland can depend on the age of the victim, when the injury is discovered, and the type of defendants involved. In general, a medical malpractice cause of action must be filed before the lesser of: 

  • 3 years from the date of discovery, or
  • 5 years from the date of injury.

However, under the discovery rule, the time does not begin to run until the patient discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury. For minors in Maryland who were injured when under the age of 11, the time limitations shall commence when the child reaches the age of 11.

Philadelphia Anesthesia Malpractice Time Limits

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is two years from the date the injury occurred. However, if the injury victim is a minor, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the person turns eighteen years of age. The discovery rule may also allow for an extension of the statute of limitations when the victim later discovers the injury. 

Wrongful Death After a Fatal Anesthesia Error

When someone dies after an anesthesia error, the victim is no longer around to be able to fight for justice. However, family members or representatives may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the doctors and hospitals to recover damages. Wrongful death lawsuits may have a different time limit than medical malpractice cases. For example: 

  • Illinois Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: every such action shall be commenced within 2 years
  • Maryland Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: an action shall be filed within 3 years
  • Pennsylvania Death Statute of Limitations: must be commenced within 2 years

There may be other exceptions, restrictions, and notice requirements that can extend or shorten the statute of limitations in wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. Talk to your lawyer as soon as possible to make sure you can file your claim in time to recover damages. 

Long-Term Consequences of Anesthesia

There may be long-term cognitive impairment after the use of anesthesia, especially in older patients or those with cognitive disorders. Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is a decline in cognitive function that can remain after anesthesia. In some cases, it can go on for years. Symptoms can include attention deficit, memory loss, and loss of interest in familiar activities. 

How Can a Lawyer Help Me After an Anesthesia Injury?

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can review your case, get a medical expert’s careful review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against the doctors and hospitals responsible for the error. Contact experienced personal injury trial attorneys who have successfully represented anesthesia error victims and their families to recover financial compensation. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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