Anesthesia Errors and Medical Malpractice (podcast) May 8, 2024.

Anesthesia Errors and Medical Malpractice (podcast)

Anesthesia errors can lead to brain injuries and death. If you or a loved one was injured while under anesthesia, you may be able to claim compensation. In this podcast, Christopher Mellino, founding attorney of the Mellino Law Firm, explains what you need to know about anesthesia errors and medical malpractice.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher, and I'm here today with Christopher Mellino, founding attorney of the Mellino Law Firm. A personal injury law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, with a focus on medical malpractice. Chris has over 40 years of experience in handling medical malpractice cases, has been involved in several landmark cases in Ohio, and has received verdicts against every hospital system in Cleveland. Welcome, Chris.

Chris Mellino: Hi, John. Thanks for having me today.

How Common Are Anesthesia Errors?

John: Sure. Yeah. So Chris, today we're talking about anesthesia errors medical malpractice. We hear about anesthesia errors sometimes in the news, but how common are they in terms of medical malpractice cases?

Chris Mellino: In terms of medical malpractice cases, they're probably one of the most common types of malpractice cases.

What Is an Anesthesia Error?

John: And can you describe what we're talking about when we say anesthesia error?

Chris: Well, I mean, simply it's any error made by an anesthesiologist. I mean, most commonly they happen during surgeries. But there's more different types of anesthesia that are being used today for simple procedures like conscious sedation is one of them, where you're put in a twilight, people refer to it as so.

John: Right. You're still half awake, but not really conscious of what's going on?

Chris: Right. But then there's the traditional old-fashioned where you get wheeled into the operating room and you're "put to sleep" during the time that the surgery's going on and then you're awakened at the end of the surgery and then taken into recovery.

"Mistakes" That Qualify as Medical Malpractice

John: Right. So what are some of the mistakes that anesthesiologists can make that might qualify as medical malpractice?

Chris: Well, I mean, the short answer to that is any error that results in an injury to the patient. So I guess going back to what we were talking about before, in terms of outpatient procedures, when the twilight is used, the most common thing that happens there is that, that's a form of anesthesia, but it's not very frequently used. It's not an anesthesiologist there that's performing the anesthesia. So doctors, if they have certain training are allowed to do that. Nurse anesthetists are allowed to do that as well. Sometimes doctors delegate that anesthesia to one of their nurses who aren't qualified, who are supposed to be doing it under the doctor's supervision.

So with conscious sedation, what happens is sometimes the person doing it will put the person in too-deep of a sleep. The reason it's allowed to be done in outpatient settings without an anesthesiologist is the person's not supposed to be at that deep of a level of sedation. That's the most common in an outpatient setting is personally they're having a reaction to the drugs that are used for sedation, and the people that are there aren't qualified to reverse it, or if they don't have the reversal agents available. And the same could be true in an inpatient in operation.

But what most people don't realize, and I didn't realize this when I started doing it until I had the first few anesthesia cases is that the anesthesia that they give you are drugs that actually make you stop breathing. The anesthesiologist takes over, there are machines that breathe for you. Basically when you're put under, your life is literally in the hands of the anesthesiologist, and it's up to them to make sure that you're breathing and that your heart's beating, because those are the two things that keep you alive, keep you going. So anything that they do they interfere with that.

So the problem is these are pretty potent drugs, as you can imagine, and every patient's body reacts differently to them, so they can get a certain drug and their heart could stop beating, or they could stop breathing, or it can drop their blood pressure, or it can make their heart start beating faster, or it can raise their blood pressure. So anesthesiologists are trained to react to all of those different variances.

Again, there could be situations where they don't react fast enough, they don't notice it. So in an inpatient setting, the biggest, most common thing that happens is that hospitals have what are called operating suites, which will have eight operating rooms in that suite. So there'll be eight surgeries going on at the same time. Hospitals to save money will have one or two anesthesiologists, the anesthesia doctors that are assigned to this operating suite on a given day, and then there's anesthesia assistants or nurse anesthetists that are actually the ones administering the anesthesia.

So it's all delegating down and you're not necessarily having an anesthesia doctor. They're required to be there at the time you're put to sleep, and at the time you're awakened. So I mean, we had a pretty tragic case where a woman went in just for simple surgery on her nose. She had deviated septum, and the anesthesiologist wasn't there at the time bringing the person out of the anesthesia. It was a resident who was doing it, didn't do it properly, and she got over sedated and ended up with a brain injury from that and was in a permanent vegetative state the rest of her life just from a simple surgery for deviated septum.

Long-Term Consequences of Anesthesia Errors

John: Yeah. I was going to ask what some of the long-term consequences might be beyond just the surgery itself and issues there. Like you said, things like your heart stopping or beating too fast, or your breathing or having issues like that. What are some of those long-term consequences, like brain injuries that might happen because of problems with anesthesia?

Chris: Well, sure, these are the most dangerous types of malpractice cases because what I just said about the drugs and affecting your heart rate and affecting your breathing. I mean, anytime your heart stops beating, you get a loss of blood flow to your vital organs, particularly brain, that can cause brain injury, which is what happened to our client that I just mentioned. So the same thing, you stop breathing, you're not getting enough oxygen, it's also... Brain injury and death are the two biggest things can happen as a result of anesthesia errors.

What to Do If You or a Loved One Are Harmed by an Anesthesia Error?

John: So if someone believes that they've been harmed or that a loved one has been harmed by an anesthesia error, what are the steps that they should take to investigate this and potentially pursue a lawsuit?

Chris: Right. This actually is particular type of malpractice. I mean, unless you have a friend who's an anesthesiologist, you're going to need to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer because every surgery, or every time there's anesthesia used, there has to be a record kept of the anesthesia. And that record is second by second, minute by minute. It has to document what drugs they gave, what time they gave them, and what the patient's heart rate was before and after they gave the drug, and all during the procedure. So the anesthesia record, you need to get that, and you need to have somebody who knows what they're looking at, go through that record, second by second and figure out what happened, where the error occurred, or what could have been done to prevent the injuries.

Damages in Anesthesia Error Lawsuits

John: And then what types of damages might be recoverable in a medical malpractice lawsuit due to an anesthesia error?

Chris: Well, I mean, there's two types of damages you can recover in medical negligence cases. One, anything for future medical care, loss wages, any money losses that result from the injuries. So if you have a brain injury and you're never able to return to work, recover lost wages through your retirement age. Any treatment you'll need in the future, or for people with serious brain injuries that need round clock care, all of that, you can recover in a malpractice suit.

You can also recover for non-money losses which are for pain, suffering, everything that a person goes through that you can't put a dollar value on or doesn't have a price tag on it, that results in death, then the family, the patient can recover for their loss of support, loss of companionship, or being with the person and mental anguish from going through that.

Consult With a Medical Malpractice Attorney If Something Goes Wrong

John: Any final thoughts on anesthesia errors and medical malpractice?

Chris: Well, like I said before, the most dangerous type of medical errors to probably the least... Patients don't really know. I mean, the person that's having the surgery is asleep during the surgery so they don't really know what's going on. Something happens to them, the family may not even consider that, hey, maybe somebody made a mistake in the surgery. So I think they're the least detected, least suspected in terms of medical errors.

And also if the patients and the families don't have a relationship with the anesthesia doctor, so the anesthesia doctor's not going to come out and say, "Hey, I made a mistake, or I screwed up during there, or this is actually what happened." They're usually not that forthcoming. So I think if anything unforeseen happens during a surgery, especially a simple surgery, like an example, I used a deviated septum. If something goes bad, you should consult with a medical malpractice attorney because it may be an anesthesia error that people wouldn't normally suspect until they get a good look at that anesthesia record.

John: All right. Well that's really great information, Chris. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Chris: My pleasure.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Mellino Law Firm website at or call (440) 333-3800.