Truck Accident Multimillion-Dollar Settlement.

"M.A.," a 30-year-old man, was driving to work in New Mexico. Suddenly a commercial truck veered across the center line and struck his vehicle head on. M.A. died at the scene. The McNeely Stephenson firm was hired shortly after the crash to represent the family of the deceased.

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The Hazards of Anesthesia

If you’ve ever had any type of surgery or certain medical procedures, you have experienced anesthesia. Anesthesia enables us to undergo life-saving operations without experiencing any pain during the process. It has become so commonplace that you might even have been lightly sedated in a dentist’s office for a tooth extraction.

Anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) specialize in pain management, especially during surgery or medical procedures that necessitate sedation. Situations that used to require a doctor of anesthesiology are now often taken care of by nurse-anesthetists, especially in rural or other underserved areas or during relatively minor procedures. While CRNAs are supposed to be supervised, unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In the process of keeping a person sedated and free from pain, anesthesia sometimes stops the breathing process, depending upon the medications required for the procedure or surgery. Minor medical procedures do not usually require forms of anesthesia that stop a person’s breathing. But for major surgery, the doctor or nurse must not only use the right amount of the various medications required—and there are several—they must also keep a patient breathing by intubating them to deliver oxygen. That translates into multiple ways that the process can go wrong.

Botched anesthesia can arise from a number of different medication errors or intubation mistakes, leaving you with any number of complications that include brain damage. It can also kill you: approximately 3 in every 10,000 patients die as a result of anesthesia problems. The rate of anesthesia complications, from minor to major, was 4.8 percent between the years 2010 and 2013. Generally, the older and sicker a patient is, the higher the risk of certain complications. However, anesthesia mistakes mean that even a healthy young person can experience complications or die.

In the United States, medical errors are thought to be the third most common cause of death, following heart disease (#1) and cancer (#2). A study done by Johns Hopkins physicians in which they analyzed death rate information led them to estimate that 251,454 deaths, at a minimum, are due to medical errors in our country every year. It is believed that the real number is actually much larger, because at-home and nursing home deaths were not counted.

Types of Anesthesia

Anesthetics stop pain signals from reaching the brain. Anesthesiologists and anesthetists employ various drugs and procedures to short-circuit pain:

  • Local anesthesia. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever been “numbed” at the dentist for a filling, or had a small wound stitched. You are still conscious after being anesthetized.
  • Regional anesthesia. Larger areas of the body are numbed. Such anesthesia is either spinal or epidural. Caesarean sections often use this form of anesthesia. Again, you are generally conscious.
  • Conscious sedation. You are relaxed and drowsy, with drugs administered intravenously to block pain, but often you can still answer questions.
  • General anesthesia. You are unconscious, and the relevant drug is given intravenously or via a mask. Not every form of general anesthesia requires intubation to take over your breathing process. For example, if you have a colonoscopy done, generally a quick-acting drug is administered intravenously but you are not intubated. More extensive surgery requires different drugs and intubation.

You may also be given muscle relaxers and sedation drugs for general relaxation. Technically, these are not anesthetics.

Reasons for Preventable Anesthesia Errors

A number of anesthesia errors—indeed, a number of surgical errors—occur for two big reasons: failure to communicate properly with others on the medical team, and failure to read medical charts and orders. Communication, or the lack of it, causes many medical errors, but in a surgical situation with numerous team members, proper back-and-forth becomes critical. Recent studies have shown that checklists of necessary tasks can reduce the number of mistakes during surgeries and procedures.

Other errors that can occur during the administration of anesthesia mistakes are as follows:

  • Insufficient or improper supervision of CRNAs, when a doctor of anesthesiology is not the primary person administering and monitoring the anesthesia.
  • Medication errors, which can take several different forms: using the wrong drug; using expired drugs; using the incorrect concentration of the drug; using the incorrect dosage; administering the drug incorrectly; and not recognizing an adverse medication event when it happens.
  • Anesthesia equipment that is defective in some way.
  • Failure to maintain a sufficient airway for breathing.
  • Improper intubation, resulting in tracheal damage, dental damage, or insufficient oxygenation of the patient.
  • Failure to recognize an allergic reaction to a drug.

Common Problems Resulting from Anesthesia Mistakes

Complications from anesthesia errors can include tracheal damage (from intubation), brain damage and blindness (often from insufficient oxygen), spinal cord injury and paralysis (from regional anesthesia), heart attacks, strokes, and death.

Other problems that can result from anesthesia mistakes include:

  • Birth injuries. Improperly-given anesthesia during birth can damage the newborn or even cause death, as well as injure the mother.
  • Anesthesia awareness. A nightmare scenario for many of us, it means receiving the wrong dosage of medications, or the wrong medications, and being aware during surgery but unable to communicate it. This kind of medical error is extremely traumatic.
  • Damage to the airway and insufficient oxygen. Such damage can range from knocked-out teeth to injuries to the trachea, to a lack of oxygen, which can cause brain damage or death.
  • Complications from monitored anesthesia care (MAC). Many minor surgeries and medical procedures are done these days in medical offices and ambulatory surgical centers using MAC. Drugs such as propofol combined with opiods or benzodiazepines are often given to keep the patient unaware. However, this variety of anesthesia is not without its risks; in fact, the chances of complications with MAC are higher than with other forms of anesthesia.

Anesthesia is a medical advance that has enabled us to extend our lives. It is truly a miracle that we sometimes take for granted. However, when anesthesia is improperly administered because of medical negligence, it can turn harmful or even deadly. We hope you’ll seek professional legal advice if you or a loved one has suffered from an anesthesia error.

real-life cases

“B.K.” was driving on a two-lane road one Sunday afternoon with his mother in the front seat and his brother and sister-in-law in the back seat when his life was forever changed. B.K. was struck head on by D.C.

D.C. had spent the day drinking with a friend and had stopped at a restaurant less than five miles from the point of the accident where D.C. had been served several drinks. D.C.’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

As a result of the terrible wreck, B.K. received devastating injuries, which included multiple broken bones, facial fractures, and loss of vision. B.K.’s mother, brother, and sister-in-law were all killed in the accident.

As one would anticipate, D.C. had virtually no insurance. Stephenson, through his thorough and detailed investigation, was able to prepare claims against the restaurant and those that provided the alcohol.

Stephenson pursued dram shop claims against those responsible CASE SUMMARY

D.H. was a competitive bicyclist who was riding in preparation for a cross-country fundraising ride. In the spring of 2010, D.H. was riding across an old steel-grated deck bridge in Shelby County when he hit a hole in the bridge and flipped over the handlebars of his bike. The impact to the bridge decking caused severe injuries to his face, teeth, tongue, and elbow.

Through the investigation, they were able to learn as early as 1998, the bridge inspection reports showed the bridge in question needed to be replaced. The county never authorized additional inspections. The county obtained $844,000 in funding for the replacement of the bridge in 2000, but the Historical Society and adjacent property owners wanted the bridge repaired rather than replaced.

This crash could have been avoided if the inspectors and county had done their jobs. CASE SUMMARY

Our client (“D.W.”) was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle that was struck by a UDF truck making deliveries. D.W. received broken arms and legs, as well as internal injuries. Stephenson was retained by D.W.’s personal counsel to prepare and try the case. Discovery determined that the UDF driver had multiple driving violations. Stephenson retained numerous experts to show the jury the devastating effects of the injuries. Before trial, the defendant’s company stated that a jury in a small southern county in Indiana would never return a verdict for $1 million in this case.

The defendant was correct; the verdict was twice that amount. CASE SUMMARY

When something goes wrong, we are left to wonder.

Have you suffered from an anesthesia error or experienced a medical situation that you suspect involved negligence or malpractice? The investigative team at McNeely Stephenson goes to work immediately to uncover the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of medical injuries caused by malpractice. We are committed to bringing together the most qualified experts available to uncover exactly what happened. Because medical malpractice claims can be complex, the proficiency of your experts is crucial in both the investigation and litigation phases of your claim.

Mike Stephenson is a Martindale-Hubbell AV-rated attorney, the highest possible attorney peer rating. When you call Mike, you can have complete confidence that you are talking with an Indiana medical malpractice lawyer with over 30 years’ experience offering compassionate and successful representation for his clients. What is your next step toward justice? Contact us today using our online form, or call 1-317-825-5200.

Personal Injury Lawyer
March 29, 2019 / Premises Liability, Wrongful Death
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Mike Stephenson is a Super Lawyer in Indiana along with many of his peers at McNeely Stephenson. This is one of the highest honors an attorney can achieve

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