Anesthesia Death Results in $2 Million Settlement

2011 Medical Malpractice Trial Report

36 Year Old Man Dies From Anesthesia Mishap Following Elective Hernia Repair Surgery

The plaintiff’s decedent was a 36-year-old man who died on 7/13/05 secondary to respiratory complications following an elective hernia repair. During the pre-operative anesthesia evaluation, the defendant noted the patient had never been intubated and had required a tracheostomy for a previous surgery in 1992. During this evaluation, the patient asked to be put asleep during the surgery. Despite his history of asthma, obesity, and impaired respiratory function, the defendant decided to administer general endotracheal anesthesia with rapid sequence induction.

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Anesthesiologist Eyed in Series of Cataract Surgery Errors

The surgery itself was without incident and lasted about two hours. At the end of surgery, at 4:15 P.M., an anesthesia reversal agent was given. Between 4:00 P.M. and 4:30 P.M., the patient’s ETCO2 levels remained elevated between 43 and 46. Nevertheless, at 4:25 P.M., the defendant extubated the patient in the operating room. Following extubation, the patient began to have difficulty breathing.

At 4:28 P.M., the patient was noted to be agitated as he was awaking. He dislodged his IV catheter, and the defendant had to re-establish IV access. At this time, the patient was in respiratory distress and unable to maintain adequate oxygen saturations. The defendant mask ventilated the patient because he was experiencing severe bronchial spasms. While being moved to an OR stretcher, the patient desaturated and he again suffered respiratory distress. The patient was mask ventilated for several minutes, during which time he would improve but then, when left independently, he would desaturate down to the low 60’s. He was continued on mask ventilation and his chest wall was ridged with minimal movement despite positive ventilation. Additionally, he was given several puffs of Albuterol with minimal improvement.

Given the patient’s repeated desaturations, a fiber optic scope was used to evaluate his upper airway, which revealed a severely edematous upper airway with a folded epiglottis. An attempt was finally made to re-intubate; however, an esophageal intubation was detected and the ET tube was removed. The patient was again put on mask ventilation, and eventually he was re-intubated. His oxygen saturations continued to drop. At that time, he received several Albuterol puffs without improvement in his oxygen saturations or peak airway pressures.

During this respiratory crisis, the surgeon was called back to the OR to perform  a tracheostomy, however, there was no improvement in the patient’s oxygenation and he continued to have asystole. Subsequently, he went into respiratory arrest and coded at 5:15 P.M. Between 5:15 P.M. and 5:59 P.M., the code team attempted to resuscitate with no cardiac activity achieved. At 5:59 P.M., the code and CPR were terminated, and the patient was pronounced dead.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant deviated from the accepted standard of care for the average qualified anesthesiologist when he failed to immediately recognize and appreciate the patient’s post-operative respiratory crisis, and immediately re-intubate the patient after initial attempts to ventilate him with a bag and mask failed.

The defendant contended that he met the standard of care and that the patient’s death was an unfortunate medical outcome that could not have been foreseen or prevented. Moreover, it was the patient’s choice to elect the riskier anesthesia for this surgery.

The case settled during discovery for $2,000,000.

Lubin & Meyer attorneys represented the plaintiff in this anesthesia death lawsuit.

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