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Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesiologist errors are rare and have decreased significantly over the years. But mistakes still happen. In fact, more than 4,000 medical mistakes are made every year. Experts agree medical mistakes are grossly underreported. Even so, medical errors are estimated to be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. When these mistakes happen, they can be devastating – if not deadly. In circumstances where a medical practitioner fails to exercise an acceptable level of care, a medical malpractice claim may arise.

If you have been injured as a result of an anesthesiologist’s mistake or negligence, call Burg Simpson’s medical malpractice lawyers today at (866) 344-7582 or fill out our FREE case evaluation form.

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Anesthesia has been used a way to control pain during surgery or other medical procedures since 1846. Anesthetics are powerful medicines used to relax, paralyze, numb pain and/or render a patient unconscious before surgery or a dental procedure. There are three primary types of anesthesia:

  • Local: These numb a small, specific area of the body and are typically applied with an injection, but sometimes may be topical.

  • Regional: These anesthetics numb a slightly larger part of the body. These are typically injected around major nerve clusters or directly into the spinal cord.

  • General: This renders the patient unconscious and is generally delivered as gas or through an IV.


While under anesthesia, a surgical patient is completely vulnerable, making it even more important than ever that the health care provider takes their responsibility seriously to ensure the safety and comfort of the patient. For example, the patient’s airway much be unobstructed and monitored, to ensure adequate oxygen levels are maintained. In addition, joints and pressure points must be carefully managed in an unconscious patient to prevent injuries, especially during lengthy surgeries. During paralysis and general anesthesia, joints can be inadvertently injured because they are able to be hyper-flexed or hyperextended without any sign of pain from the patient. Anesthesiologists are also responsible for administering certain types of nerve blocks. They must use caution to avoid damaging nerves when performing these procedures.

Types of Anesthesia Errors

The severity and extent of an anesthesia injury will depend on the type of mistake made as well as the nature and timeliness of any corrective action. Establishing liability can be extremely challenging, as the liability does not always lie with the anesthesiologist. Doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, and nurses can all be held responsible for anesthesia injuries.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project, which tracks insurance carrier claims, surgical anesthesia incidents were responsible for nearly two-thirds of claims. More than one-quarter of those claims results in the patient’s death.

The most common anesthesia errors include:

  • Failure to properly establish or maintain a patient’s airway, which can cause brain injury and/or injuries to the teeth, throat, neck, stomach, and lungs

  • Overdose, which results in hypotension, brain injury, stroke, and/or heart attack

  • Failure to properly monitor a patient before, during, and after surgery

  • Failure to recognize complications and adverse drug reactions

  • Improper negligent management of oxygen administration during surgery, which can cause serious brain damage

  • Improper or incomplete evaluation for anesthesia tolerance, which can lead to a failure in identifying patients at higher risk for malignant hyperthermia

  • Allowing oxygen to come into close proximity to hot surgical equipment, which burns the patient

  • Surgical procedural errors resulting from a failure to properly evaluate a patient’s medical history

  • Dangerously prolonged sedation


Types of Injury from Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia errors can result in serious injuries and sometimes even wrongful death. In addition, many individuals can experience severe psychological injuries after such an event, including sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other issues. Each type of anesthesia can affect the body differently.

The most common anesthesia injuries are:

  • Anaphylaxis: An extreme allergic reaction

  • Awareness: What happens when a surgical patient under general anesthesia can recall the event, including pressure or pain, related to their surgery

  • Ocular injury: A physical or chemical eye or eye socket wound, which is the second-leading cause of visual impairment in the U.S.

  • Blindness: A postoperative condition that emerges as a complication of general anesthesia

  • Sore throat: This affects nearly half of patients

  • Oral trauma: Any injury to the teeth, gums, lips, and/or tongue

  • Peripheral nerve injury (permanent and temporary): Typically results from poor patient positioning


These mistakes can also lead to more serious complications, such as:

  • Brain injury

  • Stroke

  • Heart attack

  • Birth defect

  • Nerve damage

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Paralysis

  • Ventilator dependence

  • Airway trauma/damage

  • Joint injury


What Is Anesthesia Awareness?

Anesthesia awareness is the term used to describe what happens to a patient when they regain consciousness during surgery, often because of an insufficient dose of anesthesia or the result of hospital equipment error. Awareness can occur even when the patient is still paralyzed and unable to communicate that they are aware because the medications that induce paralysis are different from those that cause sedation.

Being aware and able to feel pain but being unable to communicate is understandably an exceptionally traumatic experience. While not all cases of anesthesia awareness are the result of medical malpractice, a large proportion can be attributed to physician error. According to some industry associations, anesthesia awareness during surgery affects more than 40,000 patients each year. These events can have lasting effects, such as chronic nightmares, anxiety, irritability, and an unusual preoccupation with death.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Help

Even with modern advances in medicine and medical technology, mistakes still happen in the operating room. Few mistakes are as frightening – or as lethal – as those that happen with anesthesia.

If you or a loved one have suffered as a result of anesthesia errors, reach out to one of the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Burg Simpson. Call us today at (866) 344-7582 or fill out our FREE case evaluation form now.

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