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Guide to Anesthesia Injuries, Lawsuits, & Compensation

Guide to Anesthesia Injuries Lawsuits Compensation

Since 1846, when the first early form of anesthesia was used, patients have been able to minimize pain and discomfort during medical procedures. This invention has helped countless individuals. Despite its contribution to society, anesthesia can be dangerous when medical providers do not administer it safely, potentially leading to life-threatening conditions.

If you were injured because of a medical provider’s mistake related to anesthesia, you may have legal grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to seek compensation for your injuries and losses. Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer from Powers & Santola, LLP, to discuss your claim during a free consultation.

Different Types of Anesthesia

The general purpose of anesthesia is to keep patients still during medical procedures and prevent them from feeling pain related to the procedure. Today’s anesthesia includes intravenous medicines and inhaled gasses that sometimes cause the patient’s unconsciousness or prevent their brain from sending or receiving pain signals.

Healthcare providers generally use three types of anesthesia, as follows:

  • Local anesthesia – Local anesthesia numbs the specific body part that will be operated on. It does not render the patient unconscious. This type of anesthesia is more common in less serious medical procedures, such as dental procedures, stitching wounds, or biopsies.
  • Regional anesthesia – This form of anesthesia numbs a larger portion of the body, blocking pain signals. For example, this anesthesia may be used to block pain below the chest during childbirth. The patient remains conscious so medical providers can communicate with them.
  • General anesthesia – General anesthesia renders a patient unconscious. This type of anesthesia is used for more invasive medical procedures, such as open heart surgery. It prevents the patient from moving or feeling pain.

Different mistakes can occur based on the anesthesia the medical provider uses.

Statistics on Anesthesia Errors

Multiple studies have investigated the prevalence of anesthesia errors, reaching different results. The medical journal Anesthesia published an epidemiological study that found that anesthesia death rates had declined in recent years, going from 1 death in 1,000 procedures in the 1940s to 1 death in 10,000 procedures in the 1970s to 1 death in 100,000 procedures in the 1990s. Of the 2,211 anesthesia-related deaths the study identified between 1999 and 2005, researchers identified the following causes:

  • 46.6% – Anesthesia overdose
  • 42.5% – Adverse effects of therapeutic use
  • 3.6% – Childbirth related
  • 7.3% – Other complications

However, a different anesthesiologist published a study in Anesthesiology refuting claims of the declining rate of fatalities attributed to anesthesia errors. That anesthesiologist reviewed data from two academic New York hospitals between 1992 and 1999, finding one death per 13,176 surgeries.

Another study found that while it was rare for patients to die on an operating table due to an anesthesia error, 1 in 20 died within one year of receiving general anesthesia, or 1 in 10 for older patients.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists maintains a database of medical malpractice claims related to anesthesia errors and has received more than 9,000 claims since 1984. According to its data:

  • 6% of anesthesia malpractice claims were related to surgical anesthesia.
  • The most common serious complications associated with the use of anesthesia were death (26%), nerve injury (22%), and permanent brain damage (9%).
  • Dental injuries, nerve damage, organ damage, general pain, and cardiac arrest were the most reported injuries.

While the findings vary, a commonality in the research is that anesthesia errors do occur, often with deadly consequences.

Are Anesthesia Errors Avoidable?

Yes. Anesthesia errors are avoidable. They often occur due to human error when healthcare providers fail to adhere to the established standard of care. Victims of anesthesia errors may be able to seek accountability and financial compensation through anesthesia malpractice claims.

Common Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia can provide tremendous benefits to doctors and patients alike. However, it comes with inherent risks. Anesthesia professionals must be extremely careful when administering and monitoring patients. Common anesthesia mistakes include:

  • Wrong anesthesia – A medical provider may give a patient the wrong type of anesthesia because they confuse the patient, misread their chart, or use the wrong medication for the procedure.
  • Overdose – If an anesthesiologist administers too much anesthesia, this can interfere with the patient’s vital functions, such as their heart rate or breathing. Complications can include brain damage or death.
  • Underdose – If a medical professional does not provide enough anesthesia, the patient can wake up during surgery, potentially suffering lasting trauma from the experience.
  • Delayed anesthesia delivery – Patients can experience unnecessary pain and anesthesia awareness when medical providers delay administering anesthesia.
  • Failure to monitor – Patients’ vital signs must be carefully monitored when they receive anesthesia. Patients can lose oxygen and suffer brain damage and death if healthcare providers do not carefully monitor them.
  • Allergic reactions – Patients may face adverse allergic reactions to certain types of anesthesia.
  • Adverse drug interactions – Some anesthesia medicines can interact negatively with other medications.
  • Intubation errors can prevent patients from receiving enough oxygen during a procedure in which they are receiving anesthesia.

Anesthesia mistakes can lead to adverse health outcomes and severe consequences. Medical professionals must carefully monitor and administer anesthesia to avoid these errors.

Why Do Anesthesia Errors Occur?

Like with all forms of medical malpractice, various factors may contribute to anesthetic errors, including:

  • Failing to give proper instructions – Medical providers must properly prepare their patients before they receive anesthesia. For example, if a patient does not know they are supposed to fast before a procedure, stomach contents can enter their lungs, potentially causing serious complications. Medical providers should also discuss the procedure, identify potential risks, and obtain the patient’s informed consent.
  • Failing to adequately review the patient’s medical history – Healthcare providers must obtain the patient’s full medical history to ascertain whether there are potential risks, such as previous allergic reactions to anesthesia.
  • Failing to consolidate medications – Anesthesiologists should review the patient’s current medication regimen to determine if the patient may have a harmful interaction with anesthesia.
  • Lack of training or education – Anesthesiologists may not know how to properly intubate a patient or avoid causing dental injuries when using one because they have not received proper education or training on these matters.
  • Poor communication between medical providers – Poor communication regarding the patient, their medical history, or their current medications can lead to serious consequences.
  • Failing to monitor the patient – Anesthesiologists must carefully monitor the patient during the procedure. They must ensure the patient is receiving enough oxygen and respond quickly if complications arise. They must advise the surgical team if vital signs are worsening or the patient is experiencing possible complications.
  • Using malfunctioning or defective medical equipment – Anesthetic equipment must be checked and maintained regularly. Old, outdated, or defective equipment can harm patients or lead to inaccurate anesthesia or oxygen delivery.
  • Inadequate post-operative instructions – The patient may need to follow additional instructions after surgery. Doctors who fail to provide these instructions may be responsible when the patient suffers harm.

These common anesthesia errors can result in severe injuries to patients.

Common Injuries Stemming from Anesthesia Errors

Medical errors related to anesthesia can lead to catastrophic consequences, including:

  •  Heart attack
  •  Coma
  • Stroke
  • Death

Various other injuries can result from anesthesia mistakes, including:

  •  Organ damage
  • Nerve damage
  •  Paralysis
  •  Respiratory distress
  • Eye injury
  • Brain injury
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Blood clots

Patients can also suffer psychological consequences from anesthesia errors. When a patient is aware of the anesthesia when they should be unconscious, they can suffer psychological trauma, potentially resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

Other patients may suffer from postoperative delirium or cognitive dysfunction, which can cause persistent memory loss and learning difficulties.

Dental Injuries from Anesthesia Errors

Teeth damage is the most common complaint against anesthesiologists. These injuries often occur when the anesthesiologist must use advanced airway management. Anesthesiologists may have difficulty intubating patients so that they receive anesthesia without damaging their teeth. However, anesthesiologists can obtain a dental history and complete an oral examination to identify potential risks. They can also consider alternative equipment or techniques to reduce the likelihood of dental trauma.

What Do I Have to Prove to Win an Anesthesia Error Lawsuit?

A successful claim for anesthesia malpractice must prove the following four legal elements:

Duty of Care

You must establish that the anesthesiologist had a duty of care toward you as a patient. An anesthesiologist’s duty of care is the level of care another anesthesiologist with similar training and experience would provide under similar circumstances. All anesthesiologists must safely administer anesthesia and monitor a patient’s vital signs.

Breach of Duty of Care

Next, you must prove that the medical provider deviated from the standard of care. They must have done something or failed to do something another anesthesiologist would have done or not done under the circumstances. This could be placing an intubation tube incorrectly, failing to monitor you, or not communicating with your care team about your progress during surgery, for example.


It is not enough to show the anesthesiologist made a mistake. Instead, you must show this mistake is what caused your injury. Your injury could not have been due to a pre-existing health problem or an intervening cause.


Finally, you must be able to prove that you suffered damages as a result of the medical error. Damages may include:

  • Costs for additional treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship

Experienced attorneys know how complex medical malpractice cases can be. They can help obtain the evidence necessary to establish your claim.

How Do I File a Medical Malpractice Claim Alleging an Anesthesia Error?

Working with an experienced medical malpractice attorney is vital in pursuing your legal claim. Medical malpractice claims are complex, so you will need targeted legal advice and guidance to help through the legal process. A lawyer can help with all stages of your case, including:

  • Investigating the case, determining how the injuries occurred, and identifying all parties responsible for your injuries
  • Obtaining your medical records, previous history of complaints, and other evidence to support your claim
  • Consulting with medical experts regarding the standard of care and how the defendant(s) breached it
  • Obtaining an affidavit from a medical expert to support your claims
  • Ensuring that you receive proper medical care following a mistake that harmed your health
  • Filing claims with the medical provider’s medical malpractice insurance
  • Handling communications with insurance companies, defendants, and other parties on your behalf
  • Managing your claim paperwork and monitoring case filing deadlines
  • Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, if necessary

At Powers & Santola, LLP, our attorneys have a proven history of handling anesthesia error cases and a network of medical experts we can turn to to bolster your case.

Contact Our Experienced Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death Attorneys for a Free Consultation

If you were injured by an anesthesiologist’s careless error or you lost a loved one due to an anesthesia error, you may be able to seek justice and accountability for the harm you’ve suffered. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Powers & Santola, LLP, have decades of experience fighting to protect the rights of the injured.

We provide a free, no-obligation consultation so you can learn more about your legal rights and options in a confidential setting. Because we work on a contingency-fee-basis, you do not owe any fees upfront and only pay for our legal services if we successfully obtain compensation on your behalf. Contact us today to get started with your free consultation. 

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