Understanding the Perils of Anesthesia Errors


An anesthesiologist has one of the most crucial jobs in any operating room. If he or she makes an error, the repercussions could be deadly. Learn more.

When it comes to surgery, anesthesia errors are one of the biggest concerns any patient would have, and rightly so. 

According to a 2009 study, in the United States, anesthetics were the underlying cause of around 34 deaths and a contributory cause of 281 deaths in each year between 1999 and 2005. In total, there was an average of 315 anesthesia-related deaths every year in that seven-year period. 

This is an alarming statistic. Further, almost half of all anesthesia-related deaths occurred due to overdose, closely followed by errors in therapeutic use. The mortality rate is higher among senior citizens. 

Common Anesthesia Errors 

Many people associate anesthesia only with surgery. However, anesthetics are used in other areas including the urgent care center, the doctor’s office and at the dentist’s as well. They may not always refer to the drug that put you “under,” but could only be used to numb only a small part. These are called local anesthetics. General anesthesia injuries occur as a result of complications arising from: 

  • An overdose 

  • An under-dose 

  • Allergic reactions 

  • Interaction with other drugs 

  • Defective anesthetic or medical equipment 

  • Negligence in monitoring the patient’s vitals 

  • Failure to intubate the patient 

  • Failure to check medical history 

  • Failure to identify or recognize complications  

  • Delayed delivery 

Injuries Caused by Anesthesia Errors  

Injuries that arise out of anesthesia errors are often catastrophic and will depend on the kind of anesthesia used, the nature of its use and the patient. The effects of anesthesia malpractice include: 

  • Permanent nerve damage 

  • Traumatic brain injury 

  • Comatose state 

  • Cardiac arrest 

  • Stroke 

  • Respiratory failure 

  • Asphyxia 

  • Death 

Any of the above injuries could occur as a result of the errors listed previously. However, an under-dose often has long-term psychological damage instead of physical harm. Administering too little anesthesia could lead to waking up or regained consciousness during the surgery which causes: 

In a 2004 study, researchers found a 0.13% occurrence of awareness during surgery in seven medical centers. This roughly amounts to 1 to 2 people out of 1,000 patients and around 26,000 cases per year in the United States. Most patients who regained awareness during surgery suffer from severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder including flashbacks, nightmares and chronic anxiety. 

Adverse Effects of Local Anesthesia 

Anesthetic-related deaths occur mostly due to general anesthesia. However, in rare cases, local anesthesia errors have been proven to be dangerous as well. This occurs due to adverse effects or toxicity causing: 

While such negative effects are rare, if an excessively negligent or malicious anesthesia administrator provides an extremely high dose of local anesthesia, then it could lead to loss of consciousness, a fall in blood pressure, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.  

Further, a local anesthetic fatality could occur if doctors or anesthesiologists were not aware of relevant past medical history or other crucial details that determine the type and quantity of anesthesia to be administered. From a legal point of view, proving liability is a challenge. 

  • Prolonged numbness 

  • Nerve damage 

  • Infections  

  • Allergic reactions 

  • Hematoma 

  • Abscesses 

  • Depressed CNS Syndrome 

  • Involuntary twitching 

Anesthesia Errors and Legal Action 

It is the duty of the anesthesiologist to make sure that you are given the correct dose, and to continue monitoring your vitals during and after the surgery. A failure to provide a reasonable standard of care could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit if that failure resulted in the patient’s injury or death. 

Between 1990 and 2002, the median amount paid to anesthesia error claims was near a hundred thousand dollars in the United States. Such an injury causes not just overwhelming financial costs but immense psychological distress as well.  

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury because of an anesthesia error, you could recover the compensation you need by filing a malpractice lawsuit. Connect with our medical malpractice attorneys to learn more.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *