For many, the most anxiety-producing aspect of having to undergo surgery is the need for general anesthesia. Your very life depends on the competence and attentiveness of the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist who is charged with administering anesthetic drugs and monitoring you while you are unconscious. You have little choice but to trust that you will be brought out of the anesthesia and returned to consciousness safely. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and patients die or suffer serious health consequences from improperly administered drugs. A Phoenix anesthesia errors lawyer specializes in these situations and can help you during this terrible situation.
Although anesthesia is much safer today than it was fifty years ago, it must be administered with care. On the average, 300 anesthesia-related deaths are reported each year. This probably doesn’t account for all of them, as doctors and hospitals are quick to look for other causes in order to avoid liability in a malpractice law suit. And not all anesthesia errors result in death, at least not immediately. They may cause health problems that negatively affect the patient’s quality of life and potentially reduce life expectancy.
Common Types of Anesthesia Used in Surgical Procedures
Anesthesiologists choose the type of anesthesia that’s appropriate for the procedure. Anesthesia medications fall into one of three categories:
Local anesthesia is the most conservative option for many procedures since it only numbs a portion of the body while the patient remains conscious and alert. Local anesthetics are typically applied through an injection or topical application
Regional anesthesia blocks pain signals from a specific region of the body—like below the waist during childbirth—while the patient remains awake and alert. Providers inject these medications into large nerve clusters or into the spinal cord itself
General anesthesia places the body and brain into a deep form of sleep or unconsciousness. The patient feels nothing during the procedure and has no memory of the surgery after awakening. Anesthesiologists administer general anesthetics through gas or through an IV
Part of an anesthesiologist’s duty of care is to choose the most conservative anesthesia necessary for the procedure and to gain informed consent from the patient before administering the anesthesia.
Understanding Informed Consent
Like surgeons and other medical providers, anesthesia providers have a duty to obtain informed consent, including telling the patient about all risks associated with the medication and offering alternatives to general anesthesia when possible for the procedure. In some cases, medical malpractice cases involving anesthesia errors center on the patient’s lack of informed consent. This occurs when the anesthesiologist gives the patient a written consent form but fails to explain the risks and possible complications associated with the type of anesthesia, or fails to inform the patient about other options available to them.
In anesthesia error malpractice cases, the injury victim must show that had they known the risks of the anesthetic used in their procedure and/or the availability of more conservative choices, they would have declined the anesthetic with the higher risks in favor of the less invasive or higher-risk choice.
Health Problems Associated with Anesthesia Errors
Anesthesia errors can cause these and other health problems:
Arrhythmia and other heart problems
Heart function problems
Abnormal blood pressure
Spinal cord injury
High fever (malignant hyperthermia)
Post traumatic stress disorder (resulting from anesthesia awareness)
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Lingering and sometimes permanent cognitive impairment
How Anesthesia Errors Occur
Sometimes patients have bad reactions to anesthesia for reasons that cannot reasonably be anticipated; but in many cases, the person administering it has caused the problem as a result of carelessness or inattention before, during, or immediately after the procedure. Causes of preventable errors with anesthesia include:
Not taking a thorough medical history, including allergies, medications, heart or lung problems, mental conditions, and prior problems with anesthesia
Failing to communicate clearly with the patient regarding ingestion of food, fluids, and medication before having anesthesia
Failing to communicate with others in the operating room
Not intubating the patient, or doing so improperly
Wrong choice of anesthetic drug
Interaction of anesthetic drugs with other medications
Giving an excessive amount of anesthesia
Giving too little
Using defective equipment
Failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs
Standard of Medical Care in Phoenix, AZ
An Arizona medical professional administering anesthesia has a duty to deliver an appropriate standard of care, at least equivalent to that expected of any reasonably competent person in that area of specialization. These and other omissions or mistakes, in many cases, would indicate that the expected standard of patient care required of anesthesiologists and nurse- anesthetists in the Arizona medical community may have been breached, which would entitle the victim and family to recover monetary damages in a medical malpractice law suit. Reach out to our Phoenix medical malpractice lawyers for legal representation.
Proving Liability in Anesthesia Error Malpractice Cases
Properly identifying the liable party and gathering evidence to prove liability is of key importance in a successful anesthesia error malpractice case. In some cases, the anesthesiologist is personally liable for damages if they are independent contractors with privileges at the medical facility where the procedure took place. In other cases, the liable party may be the hospital or medical facility itself when the anesthesiologist is an employee. In less common cases, the liable party could be the manufacturer of a defective medical device.
Once your Phoenix anesthesia errors attorney identifies the liable party in your case they will prove negligence by documenting evidence to demonstrate that the following occurred:
A doctor/patient relationship existed at the time the malpractice occurred
The anesthesia provider had a duty of care to treat the patient at the industry-accepted level of care
The provider breached this duty by an act of negligence
The breach of duty directly caused injury to the patient
The patient suffered significant damages due to the injury
Victims of anesthesia errors suffer both economic damages and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. When an attorney can clearly show liability and negligence on the part of the provider they can calculate the damages and craft a compelling case for compensation to the injury victim.
Damages in Anesthesia Error Medical Malpractice Cases
Anesthesia errors can have catastrophic impacts on the patient’s physical and emotional health, in some cases resulting in permanent impairment or death. If your loved one died due to an anesthesia error, family members can gain compensation through a wrongful death claim. Even less serious anesthesia medication mistakes can cause lasting damages that impact the victim’s ability to work or perform routine daily tasks. Some require ongoing medical care that quickly becomes expensive. A successful claim for damages could bring compensation for the following:
Future medical expenses if the injury victim requires further treatment or home health care
Diminished earning capacity if the medical error caused disability
Pain and suffering
Loss of quality of life
PTSD, trauma, anxiety, depression
Monetary compensation won’t erase the injury and suffering, but it can help the victim gain access to the best medical care and relieve financial burdens on the victim and their family so they can focus on maximizing their physical recovery.
Many patients who’ve suffered from anesthesia errors go on to suffer long-term effects on their emotional health. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, and PTSD are acknowledged damages in this type of malpractice claim. Victims of emotional damages from anesthesia errors deserve compensation for these very real damages.
What is Anesthesia Awareness?
One of the most egregious forms of medical malpractice is anesthesia awareness. This adverse event results in the patient retaining the memory of the surgical procedure. In some cases, they may feel the pain of the surgery but be unable to indicate their state of awareness to the medical providers in the room.
Anesthesia awareness occurs in 1-2 out of every 1,000 surgical patients. Anesthesia awareness without pain is traumatic for the patient and can have lasting impacts on emotional health. Anesthesia awareness with pain is excruciating for the patient who is unable to move, react, or indicate their awake status, but instead must silently experience the horrific pain throughout the procedure. This may cause severe post-traumatic stress disorder and long-term implications for the patient’s mental health and physical well-being. It often results in a serious fear of medical providers. Patients may go on to neglect their healthcare due to fear of medical providers and facilities.
What to Do After an Anesthesia Error
Often hospitals and doctors will attempt to deny that an error occurred or that they were responsible for the mistake. It’s the injury victim’s (plaintiff’s) burden to prove liability on the part of the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. It takes careful documentation of the impacts of the error on the victim’s health to hold the liable party accountable. Once you realize that you or a loved one sustained a significant injury from anesthesia, it’s important to do the following:
Obtain a copy of the medical records at the facility where the error occurred
See a trusted doctor for a complete evaluation and share the medical records with them
Ask the evaluating doctor for a complete medical report detailing the extent of the injury, their recommendations for treatment, and the patient’s overall prognosis for recovery
Keep all medical records, bills, and doctor’s notes
Call the medical malpractice attorneys at Knapp & Roberts for an evaluation of your case before talking to malpractice insurance companies
It’s important to act fast in an anesthesia error claim. While the vast majority of claims resolve with an out-of-court settlement, some cases progress into a lawsuit. It’s important to file a claim as soon as you recognize the full scope of the damages so your attorney has time to investigate the case and negotiate with the malpractice insurance company for a settlement. Only in cases of insurance company denials of a valid claim or serious underestimation of the monetary damages does the case progress into a lawsuit. If this occurs in your malpractice case, your Phoenix medical wrongful death attorney must file a lawsuit within the state’s statute of limitations.
Arizona’s Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases
Like all states, Arizona places a time limit on the amount of time injury victims have to file a personal injury lawsuit, including medical malpractice cases. Victims of anesthesia errors in Phoenix have two years from the date of their procedure in which to file a lawsuit for compensation. This time limit serves to ensure that evidence in the case remains available and testimony is fresh when the case comes to court. It also protects defendants against the long-term threat of lawsuits.
Two exceptions to the statute of limitations for anesthesia errors exist:
If the injury isn’t discovered until sometime later or it isn’t understood that the symptoms were caused by the anesthesia error until later, the statute of limitations begins on the date the patient learned of the injury
If the victim was under age 18 at the time of the anesthesia error, they have up to two years from their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit for their damages
If you have questions about how Arizona’s statute of limitations applies in your case, contact the attorneys at Knapp & Roberts for a consultation.
Contact an Arizona Anesthesia Errors Lawyer
Medical malpractice cases are notoriously difficult to prove in Arizona. They are often high dollar value cases that hospitals, doctors, and their insurance companies fight with every means at their disposal. If you or a member of your family has been injured by the negligence of an anesthesiologist, anesthetist, or other medical professional, you will need to hire an extremely skilled and experienced Phoenix anesthesia errors lawyer — one who understands medical procedures, medical terminology, and standards of medical practice — and who has access to well-respected physicians who will review your medical records for evidence of wrongdoing and who will testify on your behalf.
In Phoenix, you will find this level of legal professionalism and experience at the law firm of Knapp & Roberts. We have a long history of successfully resolving the most challenging medical malpractice cases in favor of our clients, in some cases in the millions of dollars. We are proud of our role in obtaining justice for victims of incompetent doctors and hospitals and for deterring medical negligence by holding those responsible accountable for the injuries they have caused.
If a member of your family died unexpectedly under anesthesia during a surgery or other procedure, or if you or someone you love has experienced new physical or mental health problems following anesthesia, we want to hear about it. Contact our top-rated Phoenix personal injury attorneys to schedule a free consultation to learn if you have a case against the doctor or hospital responsible. Legal time restrictions limit the time in which you can file a claim, so don’t delay or you could lose your right to recover compensation. Call today.
Let us tell your story
we care, and we can help. Contact us 480-991-7677 or fill out the form below
The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.