Anesthesia medical errors and inadequate monitoring are a frequent area of medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits in Pennsylvania and around the country. Recently, the family of a 56 year old woman who died from an overdose of the drug lidocaine with epinephrine during a routine facelift procedure settled the wrongful death case for $3.1 million. In addition to the lidocaine overdose, the plaintiffs alleged that there was inadequate anesthesia monitoring during the procedure because the volume on alarms were turnned down so low that when the patient’s blood oxygen levels dropped (hypoxia), the alarms could not be heard. Malitz v. Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat et al., No. 0411083C (N.Y.Sup.Ct., New York County May 24, 2007). This unfortunate patient sufferred tachycardia (fast heartrate) and subsequent cardiac arrest (heart stops) from the medication overdose. The case was of particular note becuase it involved a reknowned plastic surgeon who had operated on movie stars, politicians and other public figures.
During the litigation, it was revealed that the New York State Health Department had investigated the incident and concluded that the initial dose of lidocaine that was given “significantly exceded the maximum recommended amount.” Additionally, the autopsy found a needle hole in the patient’s larynx, which indicated that the lidocaine was injected into the wrong portion of the patient’s neck during the surical proceedure.
This case demonstrates not only that anesthesia errors and medical monitoring are among the frequent areas of medical malpractice, but it also illustrates how critical medical evidence can be in winning a case. First, it is not uncommon for a few medical errors to combine to result in a tragic outcome. In this case, there was a drug overdose, injection into the wrong site and inadequate monitoring, all of which combined to result in an untimely death. Such complexity in a case requires a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, who is able to understand the relationship between these types of errors and how their combination can result in serious complications and even death. Second, because these cases may involve multiple medical errors, several medical experts may be needed from areas such as anesthesiology, cardiology and pathology. Finally, the attorney must work with the medical experts to identify and present the key medical evidence, including medical records, pathology reports and radiology studies, to build a winning case. These issues all evidence why the attorney’s knowledge and experience are critical to the case’s ultimate success.