During surgery, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist are like umpires. If they do their job well, no one notices them. But when anesthesiologists make mistakes during surgery, the harm to the patient is often catastrophic.
This page discusses anesthesia malpractice lawsuits. If you believe you have a claim for a mistake and would like to speak with an anesthesia malpractice lawyer about your options, call 800-553-8082 or get an online case evaluation.
- Get verdicts and settlements in these anesthesia cases
Approximately 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in the United States. There are three types of anesthetics: local anesthetics, regional anesthetics, and general anesthetics. Local anesthetics are used for small areas of the body (e.g. numbing tooth for filling a cavity). This type of anesthetic usually lasts for an hour or two. A regional anesthetic may be used during labor, or sometimes on the limbs of the body. General anesthesia is what you think it is: being "put under" where you are, if done right, unconscious and have no memory of the procedure. This type of anesthetic is used for more serious procedures: heart, lung, brain surgeries, and the like.
Anesthesiologists in operating rooms are responsible for providing a continuous medical assessment of the patient including monitoring vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate, etc.) and administering anesthesia to control the patient's pain level and state of unconsciousness. After surgery, they are responsible for the post-anesthetic evaluation and maintaining patients in a state of comfort.Information on Anesthesia Malpractice Claims
The rate of anesthesia malpractice has been thankfully declining over the past several years due to advancing medical practice as well as the ASA Closed Claims Project initiative. The ASA Closed Claims Project was started in 1985 to review malpractice in anesthesia to understand potential areas of concern and to address and prevent occurrences in the future. The ASA has generated a database of 9214 closed insurance claims from cases of anesthetic malpractice. (The database does not include dental anesthetic malpractice claims, which are the most common of anesthetic malpractice claims.)
Types of anesthesia malpractice include burns from materials or devices heated and used to warm patients (e.g., heating pads, IV bags, warming lights, and hot compresses), cautery burns/fires, eye damage, nerve damage (e.g., cervical cord injury), awareness, trauma, and drug allergies or interactions. Trauma includes but is not limited to, intubation problems, endotracheal tube insertion, and removal of tubes.
Intubation problems can occur due to misdirection of the tube down the esophagus which may damage the throat structures (thyroid cartilage, larynx (voice box)). Endotracheal tube malpositioning can lead to lung or heart damage. It is also critical that the anesthesiologist is aware of the patient's current medications and allergies so adverse reactions can be anticipated and managed accordingly.
Anesthesia-associated nerve injury is a common cause of malpractice lawsuits. The most common injury was to the brachial plexus, followed by ulnar nerve injury, radial nerve injury, peroneal nerve injury, paraplegia, lumbosacral injury, and a variety of "other" injuries. Studies have found that for most Anesthesia-associated nerve injury lawsuits, a reoccurring issue is the lack of proper intraoperative protective padding and errors in patient position. There are also a large number of malpractice lawsuits from anesthesiologists misusing the tourniquet during a procedure.
Pregnant women and the kids are two groups that have a further risk for complications with anesthesia. Obstetric anesthesia malpractice claims include maternal death, maternal brain damage, newborn brain damage/neonatal death (all of which usually involve difficult intubation) maternal nerve injury (due to regional anesthesia), headache and back pain. Though maternal brain damage, maternal death, and newborn brain damage/death have decreased over time, there has been an increase in the number of claims for maternal nerve damage and back pain.
Newborn brain damage/death make up approximately one-fifth of anesthesia malpractice claims. These cases often include allegations of poor communication, poor anesthesia care in response to intubation and anesthesia delay. In terms of average settlement, some of the largest anesthesia cases are inadequate ventilation because these are often lifetime brain injury or death cases. Other common injuries to the child in anesthetic malpractice claims in pediatric care include other respiratory and cardiovascular injury.Anesthesiology Lawsuits on the Decline
There are not as many medical malpractice lawsuits against anesthesiologists as there were 30 years ago. Back then, the profession was riddled with malpractice claims. Juries were repeated hitting these doctors with large malpractice verdicts.
Now there are far, far fewer claims. Why? The answer is medical malpractice lawsuits. Instead of crying for tort reform -- okay, they did that too, actually -- anesthesiologists simply got better. The revised bad procedures, they changed work rules to fight fatigue, and the demanded and got the equipment they need to keep patients safe.
As a result, the mortality rate from anesthesia nose-dived from 1 in 6000 administrations to 1 in 200,000. Look at those numbers again. It is amazing. Today, while the settlements and verdicts in these cases are still very high, anesthesiologists have some of the lowest malpractice insurance rates of any major medical specialty.Anesthesia Awareness
One anesthesia complication is anesthesia awareness. The patient receives medication that paralyzes them from calling for help, but the patient remains conscious. The patient is helpless to expresses the awful pain and must suffer through the surgery fully aware. According to the ASA Closed Claims Project, anesthetic awareness occurs at a rate of 0.1% to 0.2% of general anesthetics. Causes of awareness include light anesthesia (37%) and anesthesia delivery problems (28%). In a third of the cases, the cause is unknown.Anesthesia Malpractice: Lawsuits, Settlements, and Verdicts Examples
Below are examples of settlement and verdicts in anesthesia malpractice stories. You will notice the absence of Maryland cases. Most malpractice lawsuits against anesthesiologists in Maryland settle before trial. Here are a few lawsuits against anesthesiologists filed in Maryland:
- Milad v. Mercy Medical Center: this is an extubation wrongful death case
- Morton v. Mercy Medical Center: another anesthesia lawsuit filed against Mercy Hospital, this one alleging that too much anesthesia lead to her to lose vision in one eye
- Kenney v. Western Maryland Health Systems: wrongful death case alleging that decedent should have been given a local anesthetic instead of general anesthesia because of her poor health
- Douglas v. Dimension Health Corporation: wrongful death case alleging plaintiff should never have been gotten anesthesia for liposuction
You can use these verdicts and settlements to get a better idea of the possible settlement value of your case. But that is all you will get from these stories. There is no way to use this kind of data to be able to calculate the exact settlement value of your case. Jurisdictional differences, caps on non-economic damages, and a host of other factors make it impossible to compare one case to another and calculate a settlement value of a claim. (It would be nice if it were that easy.)
- 2022, Texas $8,300,000 verdict: A woman underwent surgery. The anesthesiologist mistakenly injected her spine with tranexamic acid rather than a spinal anesthetic. She suffered permanent brain damage. The woman was now paralyzed. She could no longer speak. The woman communicated with blinks and grunts. She could no longer feed herself. The woman required round-the-clock care. Her husband alleged negligence against the anesthesiologist. He claimed he failed to provide appropriate care and administered the wrong medication. A jury awarded $8,300,000.
- 2020, South Carolina $415,000 settlement: A man underwent a colonoscopy. After surgery, he was not breathing and had no pulse. The nurse anesthetist put him under a ventilator and called a code blue. The man was transported to a hospital and transferred to hospice care until he died six days later. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the health care facility, the nurse anesthetist, and her employer. They alleged that the nurse anesthetist failed to timely recognize respiratory arrest after she administered two Propofol doses, failed to timely administer intubation, and failed to administer the appropriate medications.
- 2020, New York $2,195,264 settlement: A 7-year-old boy underwent outpatient treatment for bilateral undescended testicles and circumcision. The anesthesia caused an allergic reaction. These reactions include malignant hyperthermia, cerebral infarction, lower leg paralysis, a bilateral deformity, and left eye vision impairment. His malignant hyperthermia resulted in multi-organ failure. The family sued the anesthesiologist for failing to properly monitor his body temperature by allowing it to go up to an unbelievable 110 degrees before treating it. His mother alleged that the anesthesiologist treated her son at lower temperatures, they could have avoided intellectual and cognitive impairments.
- 2019, New Jersey $3,250,000 settlement: A 60-year-old auto mechanic underwent right eye enucleation surgery after a pre-surgery cardiology consultation. During the procedure, anesthesia caused anoxic encephalopathy. The man sued the cardiologist, the anesthesiologist, their practices, and the hospital where the procedure took place. He alleged that the anesthesiologist's negligence - presumably the amount of anesthesia caused him to suffer severe, permanent, and life-threatening injuries. The cardiologist denied liability, claiming that his assessments were accurate and the anesthesiologist's negligence caused his injuries. The anesthesiologist contested the man's allegations, claiming that his history of cardiac issues and diabetes contributed to his injuries. They claimed that they followed the appropriate evaluation and procedures. This case settled for $3,250,000. The anesthesiologist took the brunt of the blame and paid $2 million. The hospital contributed $250,000 and the cardiologist contributed $1,000,000.
- 2019, California $1,000,000 settlement: A 36-year-old woman died after she suffered cardiac arrest, blood loss, hemorrhagic shock, and disseminated intravascular coagulation after she delivered twins via emergency c-section. Her family hired a lawyers and sued the anesthesiologist for failing to monitor and respond to her blood loss sustained in the delivery and failing to properly manage her post-delivery care. The anesthesiologist denied liability, claiming that his colleagues' negligence, rather than his, caused her death.
- 2018, South Carolina $600,000 settlement: A 57-year-old man underwent surgery to remove a fistula. The surgical team placed him under anesthesia for a ligation exam to find the source of his bleeding, hypoventilation, and hypoxia that he experienced while sedated. The anesthetist and nurse anesthetist did not timely detect the man's compromised breathing, which led to hypoxic brain injury and death. His family sued the health care facility, alleging it was responsible for their staff's actions under respondeat superior. They also made a punitive damages claim against the anesthetist, the anesthetist nurse, and the anesthesiology practice. You cannot bring a punitive damages claim in most states under these facts but you can in South Carolina. The case ultimately settled for $600,000.
- 2018, Illinois $4,600,000 verdict: An adult female surgical patient allegedly suffered a stroke following a total thyroidectomy during which anesthesia was provided by the defendants after a “deliberate hypotensive” technique was used during the surgical procedure. The plaintiff contended that the defendants failed to appreciate her increased risk factors for hypertension, peripheral vascular disease, and ischemic cerebrovascular disease, failed to consult with a critical care physician, failed to properly communicate with the surgeon, and failed to maintain acceptable cerebral profusion to her brain during the delivery of anesthesia. The defendants denied liability and denied that the plaintiff sustained injuries and damages to the extent claimed. A jury determined that the defendants were negligent in administering anesthesia and awarded the plaintiff with $4,600,000.
- 2018 Massachusetts $1,150,000 settlement: A female patient was to undergo routine cataract surgery performed by the defendant eye surgeon. Anesthesia in the form of a peribulbar block was performed by the defendant anesthesiologist. The following day, after an uneventful cataract procedure, the female plaintiff was unable to see out of the eye and went for testing that revealed that the anesthesia needle inserted by the defendant anesthesiologist had actually perforated the globe of the eye, with possible administration of the anesthesia into the eye, resulting in blindness. The plaintiff is now permanently blind in the eye in which the injection was administered. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant anesthesiologist and the defendant ophthalmologist alleging negligence. The plaintiff contended that the defendant anesthesiologist had not been properly vetted by the defendant surgeon to perform the nerve-blocking procedure. The defendants denied the allegations. The defendant surgeon disputed any duty of care for the actions of the anesthesiologist who was a contract worker. The parties agreed to resolve the plaintiff's claim for $1,150,000.
- 2017, New York $4,593,180 settlement: The plaintiff gave birth in the hospital and the baby allegedly suffered birth-related neurological injuries that included brain damage and seizures while under the care and treatment of defendants. His mother contended the defendants were negligent in providing obstetrical and anesthesia care; more specifically, one defendant failed to observe signs and warnings that the 24-year-old mother's delivery was imminent and failed to timely secure adequate anesthesia coverage by contacting the on-call anesthesiologist. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant negligently refused to provide anesthesia in a timely manner after being advised of the need for an emergency Cesarean section, while the defendant also failed to adequately supervise staff. The defendant anesthesiologist contended he already was administering anesthesia to other patients in different procedures and thus was prohibited from administering anesthesia to the plaintiff's mother. The parties reached an out-of-court settlement for $4,593,179.
- 2017, Massachusetts $500,000 settlement: The male decedent underwent an upper endoscopy performed by the defendant physician. Days later, the patient presented to the emergency room due to complaints of abdominal pain and distension, dark stools, diarrhea, weakness and nausea with blood in the stool. The defendant physician was contacted by the emergency room physician that attended to the patient, but the defendant failed to be concerned by the patient's complaints and did not see him until the following morning despite the patient being tachycardic, with diminished breath sounds which required two transfusions due to his loss of blood in the stool. Soon afterward, the defendant physician took the patient for a second endoscopy without anesthesia. The patient became apneic and required Naloxone. The breathing tube that had been inserted by the E.R had to be removed since it was being blocked by a clot. The patient then began to vomit blood and clots, further blocking his airway. Despite efforts, he was unable to be ventilated and oxygenated and died. The autopsy confirmed that the cause of death was a massive upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant physician alleging that the physician was negligent in failing to perform the second endoscopy under general anesthesia which would have preserved the patient's airway. The failure to protect the patient's airway was the cause of death. The defendant denied the allegations and disputed causation and damages. The parties agreed to resolve the plaintiff's complaint for the sum of $500,000.
- 2017 Massachusetts $750,000 settlement: The decedent in this case, with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, substance abuse, and atrial fibrillation, came under the care of the defendant dentist for a tooth extraction. The defendant dentist decided to place the plaintiff's decedent under general anesthesia. The plaintiff alleged that shortly after the general anesthesia was administered, the decedent suffered cardiac arrest. The defendant negligently attempted to intubate the decedent and failed, causing the plaintiff's decedent to suffer a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation until the paramedics arrived, noticed the incorrect tube placement, and properly intubated the decedent. However, the patient was diagnosed as having suffered a hypoxic brain injury. He never regained consciousness and died approximately two weeks later. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant dentist alleging negligence in administering general anesthesia when it was not safe to do so, given the patient's medical history, and in negligently administering an excessive dose of anesthesia. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant was negligent in improperly intubating the decedent. The defendant denied the allegations and disputed damages and causation. Both parties agreed to settle and the plaintiff received $750,000.
- 2016, Illinois: $7,884,762 Verdict. A sixty-year-old female is having a celiac plexus neurolytic block procedure with absolute alcohol performed by an anesthesiologist, even though this procedure is not indicated. The anesthesiologist fails to properly identify the landmarks during performing the procedure and fails to treat the patient's pain with a more conservative method. Further, the anesthesiologist does not have the privilege to perform the specific procedure, and he fails to place the spinal needle in the proper place. The patient dies as a result, and her husband and two sons bring a wrongful death suit. The anesthesiologist denies negligence, but a jury awards a whopping $7,884,762.
- 2015, Oregon: $12,195,500 Verdict. A 51-year old male has aortic valve replacement surgery at the hospital. The surgeon orders 150 mg of Amiodarone, which is the standard dose. However, the anesthesiologist administers 2,700 mg. This results in an anoxic brain injury due to the overdose, leaving the man no longer able to work or walk on his own, requiring 24/7 care. A jury awards him $12,195,500.
- 2015, Massachusetts: $900,000 Settlement. A 39-year old female is having surgery for uterine fibroids. While she is under general anesthesia, her blood pressure drops and remains at an extremely low lever for forty-five minutes. Finally, her heart rate and blood pressure are restored to normal, but she never regains consciousness. She is in an irreversible coma for six days and then is pronounced dead. Her estate brings suit against the anesthesiologist and the resident doctor, claiming they allowed her blood pressure and heart rate to go too slow and deprived her brain of oxygen. The defendants maintain that the anesthesia was reasonable and appropriate. In a confidential settlement, the case settles for $900,000 before trial.
- 2015, New York: $500,000 Settlement. A 54-year old female is undergoing a biopsy when she goes into cardiac arrest right after the procured ends. She brings a claim against the doctor who administered the anesthesia and against the doctor performing the procedure, claiming that failed to perform alternative testing not involving anesthesia and improperly administered the anesthesia. The defendants denied liability. The parties settled before trial, with the doctor who administered the anesthesia responsible for $375,000, and the biopsy performing doctor responsible for $125,000.
- 2015, California: $500,000 Settlement. A 60-year old male is admitted to the hospital with obstructive jaundice. He undergoes an endoscopic procedure, during which complications arise from the administration of anesthesia, and he dies. His minor son brings a medical malpractice suit, and the case resolves at mediation for $500,000.
- 2015, Michigan: $120,000 Settlement. A 75-year old woman is a patient at Harper University Hospital, planning to undergo an MRI with unconscious sedation. Immediately after the induction, she becomes unresponsive and hypotensive. She dies. She brings a claim against the hospital and anesthesia services, claiming they were negligent in providing the anesthesia in inappropriate doses and failing to control her blood pressure and heart rate. The case settles for $120,000.
- 2014, California: $7,000,000 Settlement. A 31-year old adult female goes to San Bernardino Community Hospital to deliver her fourth child. During a tubal litigation following this, she suffers cardiac arrest and cerebral anoxia, resulting in a chronic vegetative state, while under the care of the anesthesiologist. His estate brings suit, alleging that there were grossly inadequate pre-operative work-ups and a communication breakdown. The parties settle for $7,000,000.
- 2014, New Jersey: $3,970,000 Verdict. An adult female is having a right knee arthroscopy done at JFK Medical Center when she experiences a cardiac arrest, sepsis, and pneumonia under the care of her anesthesiologist. She claims that the anesthesiologist failed to administer drugs for the cardiac arrest, failed to assess the risks to the patient, and failed to safeguard her airway (along with many other things). The defendants deny violating the standard of care. But the jury awards $3,970,000, which the parties later settle at a judicial conference for $3,500,000.
- 2014, Massachusetts: $750,000 Settlement. A female patient is having bilateral cosmetic eyelid surgery done by her oral maxillofacial surgeon. During the procedure, the doctor uses local injections and intravenous anesthesia. After, the woman has vision loss in both her eyes. However, during the next week, her vision diminishes continually until after a month she has lost her eyesight completely. A vision specialist determines she has no vision in her left eye, and an MRI shows a swollen optic nerve due to suffering optic nerve atrophy in her left eye. She brings suit against the defendant, claiming negligence in the injection of anesthesia resulting in irreversible nerve damage. The parties agree to a $750,000 confidential settlement before trial.
- 2014, Alabama: $1,400,000 Verdict. An adult male is having a kidney stone removed at St. Vincent's East. The anesthesiologist does not supervise the administration of anesthesia by the student nurse anesthetist. After the surgery, the patient suffers from respiratory distress and cardiac arrest, resulting in permanent brain damage. She is transferred to the Long Term Care unit of Noland Hospital. She dies about a month later from sepsis syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and hypoxic encephalopathy.
- 2014, Michigan: $7,896,538 Verdict. A 24-year old female is hospitalized with a dilated common bile duct, nausea, and vomiting. Anesthesia is administered so an endoscopic procedure could be performed. But the patient dies after the anesthesia is administered. Her estate brings a claim alleging the doctors failed to protect her airways. Plaintiff's lawyers also argue that it was a medical mistake to use IV sedation instead of general anesthesia. The doctors argue that the patient's death was from the method of anesthesia, but due to a heart attack and pulmonary embolism. A jury reaches a verdict for the plaintiff for $7,896,538.
- 2014, Pennsylvania: $1,100,000 Settlement. A woman undergoes a sinus surgery and then dies due to respiratory issues and surgical cardiac arrest complications from general anesthesia. She brings suit against the doctors, claiming they failed to perform adequate pre-op workups and should have been aware of possible post-surgical complications, and further that the oxygen and airway levels were not properly monitored. A lump-sum settlement agreement for $1,100,000 was reached.
If you live in the Baltimore-Washington area and believe you have been a victim of negligent administration of anesthesia in Maryland, call 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.More Information
- Finding an expert in anesthesiology for your case
- Get anesthesia overdose verdicts and settlements
- What is the value of your medical malpractice case?
- Example anesthesiologist lawsuit
- Verdicts and settlements in brain injury medical malpractice cases