Damaged Vocal Cords Lawsuit

Lowrey v. United States

TrachThis medical malpractice claim was filed in after a man suffered voice loss due to an unnecessary cric. The lawsuit is against an anesthesiologist. It was filed in Health Claims Arbitration on February 15, 2018, and it is the 79th medical malpractice case filed in Maryland this year.

There are not many Federal Tort Claims malpractice cases filed in Maryland. Coincidentally, the last two cases in a row filed in Health Claims were FTCA cases against the U.S. government.

Summary of Plaintiff's Allegations

A man underwent a surgical removal of his spinal discs at C4-C7 with an entry site through his throat. The next day, the man had an acute episode of difficult breathing. When a medical response team arrived in his room, the man was standing up at his bedside and grasping his neck, unable to breathe.

An anesthesiologist asked the man to recline in bed but the man preferred sitting upright because he felt it was easier to breathe in that position. His oxygen levels were down to 86%. The man was asked to recline anyway, so the anesthesiologist could perform a video laryngoscope examination. Even with the video laryngoscope, the anesthesiologist was unable to visualize the airway.

Next, the anesthesiologist unsuccessfully attempted to intubate the man three times with a size eight endotracheal tube. Meanwhile, the man's oxygen stats dropped to 64%. A trauma surgeon arrived at the bedside and decided to perform an emergency cricothyrotomy - an incision in the neck used to create a surgical airway. The man's oxygen levels then rose to 98%.

After he recovered from the incident, the man realized he had sustained an injury to his vocal cords resulting in long-term voice loss, pain, and weakness.

Additional Comments
  • The claimant, who is representing himself pro se, claims the cric was unnecessary. But based on his dropping oxygenation statistics, the procedure might have saved his life. It seems more likely that his vocal cord damage was caused by the multiple unsuccessful intubation attempts with a large-sized tube - either way, the claimant will have to find an expert witness anesthesiologist to review his case and corroborate his claim.

  • The government is going to defendant this case by saying we did everything we could to save this man's life. We are sorry about his injury but this was the right choice to make given the oxygen deprivation the man was facing.

  • A cricothyrotomy is a technique in which the physician uses a scalpel to make an incision through the anterior surface of the neck and through the cricothyroid membrane into the trachea in order to establish an airway for the patient until a definitive airway can be established. Why not do a tracheotomy? A cricothyrotomy is often preferred to a traditional tracheotomy because it is easier to do, it is faster, and it provides a good airway. If the airway needs to remain open for a long period of time, the doctors will usually convert the cricothyrotomy to a tracheotomy.

  • Whenever you read one of these pro se malpractice cases, you wonder if the plaintiff knows that he needs an expert to support the claims of a breach of the standard of care.

Jurisdiction Defendants
  • United States of America
  • An anesthesiologist
Hospitals Where Patient was Treated
  • Baltimore/Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Centers
Negligence
  • Failing to properly visualize the airway.
  • Failing to exhaust all other options before performing a cricothyrotomy.
  • Failing to adequately train medical staff.
  • Failing to perform the appropriate tests, screenings, and cultures.
  • Failing to properly examine, treat, and monitor the claimant.
  • Failing to timely recognize the claimant's deteriorating condition.
Specific Counts Pled
  • Medical Negligence
  • Lack of Informed Consent
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