A man whose father died during surgery is bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors who administered anesthesia drugs, alleging that the physician ordered too many injections of the sedative propofol and then failed to perform CPR and call 911 in a timely manner.
According to the lawsuit, the patient was given four injections of propofol, a total of 20 cubic centimeters (cc), within 11 minutes, which lead to a fatal overdose. The last injection of 5 cc contradicted the recommendations of the manufacturer and the American Society of Anesthesiology. The plaintiff characterized this dose as a “gross violation of the standard of care.”
The lawsuit also points to time discrepancies between the hospital and Winchester Emergency Communications Center on when 911 was called after the patient’s pulse dropped and he began struggling to breathe. The lawsuit states 911 wasn’t called until 10 minutes after the time recorded by the hospital, and CPR wasn’t done until emergency medical technicians arrived.
Anesthesia errors can be incredibly serious and are often fatal. A study found that 46.6% of anesthesia-related deaths in the United States were due to an anesthetic overdose. Another 42.5% were caused by adverse effects of the anesthetic.
Propofol is a drug used to sedate patients for surgery. It is used as an “induction agent”—the drug that causes loss of consciousness— for general anesthesia in major surgery. In lower doses, it is also used for “conscious sedation” of patients getting procedures on an outpatient basis at ambulatory surgery centers. It is also used to sedate a patient who is under critical care and needs a mechanical ventilator. Propofol lowers blood pressure and suppresses breathing, so the heart function and breathing of patients need to be constantly monitored after the drug has been administered. Many of us are familiar with, or at least have heard of the drug.
Propofol made significant headlines about a decade ago, due to the role the drug played in the death of singer Michael Jackson. Jackson was found unresponsive in his home by his personal physician and later died at UCLA Medical Center. His cause of death was acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication, and the Los Angeles County Coroner ultimately concluded Jackson’s death was a homicide. His physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Murray admitted to administering 25 mg of propofol intravenously for insomnia. Murray had no training in anesthesiology and no history of administering such drugs. After administration, no monitoring of Jackson’s heart function and breathing occurred. Murray was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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