Compensating Anesthesia Overdose Injuries and Death

June 20, 2024 / RP Legal

Anesthesia is essential to many medical procedures and helps dull the pain that the patient would otherwise experience. Due to the risks of overdose and resulting toxicity, trained anesthesiologists must carefully administer this drug.

Medical negligence and avoidable errors can cause anesthesia overdoses that lead to injuries or death. If you or a loved one have been harmed because of anesthesia errors, it’s time to seek the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Rikard & Protopapas can review your case, explain your options, and help you seek the compensation you deserve. Contact our Columbia, SC medical malpractice lawyers to begin.

What Happens When Too Much Anesthesia Is Given?

Anesthesia is usually administered to a surgical patient by injection (intravenous therapy, or IV) or as a gas. It is designed to either make the patient feel sleepy and numb his or her pain or cause the patient to lose consciousness entirely.

Regardless of which type is used or the method by which anesthesia is delivered, there are risks.

Too much anesthesia can be toxic and can lead to major disruptions in normal bodily functions.

Patients are at risk of several major complications, including:

Postoperative delirium or cognitive dysfunction

Anesthesia may cause confusion, memory loss, and disorientation after surgery. While these effects may be temporary, they could last longer than a few hours or days. Postoperative cognitive dysfunction can result in long-term memory and learning difficulties in certain patients.

This condition is more common in older patients; those with conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease; and those who have had a stroke in the past.

Malignant hyperthermia

This is a serious and potentially deadly reaction to anesthesia that may occur during surgery. It causes a fever to quickly set in and the muscles to contract. Anyone who has ever had a heat stroke or suffered from malignant hyperthermia during a previous surgery should be especially aware of this risk.

Anesthesia overdose deaths

An overdose can cause a patient to go into a coma, experience a significant decrease in heart rate, and die. Although doctors and anesthesiologists have strict protocols for monitoring the patient and administering the correct dosage, fatal yet avoidable mistakes can occur.

Be sure to let your doctor know about your medical history, allergies, any medications you are taking, and any medical procedures you’ve recently had that could present an issue.

What Are the Signs of Anesthesia Overdose?

Before you or a family member are subjected to anesthesia, you should understand these common symptoms of overdose:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hypothermia
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in skin color
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mental and physical impairment
  • Prolonged unconsciousness
  • Dementia
  • Brain injuries
  • Memory and learning problems

While these symptoms are often associated with general anesthesia, the risk is also present with local anesthesia that is used for minor surgeries (e.g. dental procedures).

Side effects can be temporary, but in some cases are long-term. Talk to your doctor right away if you notice any of these above signs of overdose.

How Do Anesthesia Overdoses Happen?

Despite their medical knowledge and training, doctors and anesthesiologists aren’t perfect and do make mistakes. However, many of these anesthesia errors are due to avoidable oversights that reasonable practitioners are expected to avoid.

The following are some examples of the reasons why anesthesia overdoses occur:

  • Lack of trained or experienced staff
  • Insufficient patient monitoring
  • Miscalculations in dosages
  • Miscommunications among doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists
  • Equipment malfunctions
  • Failing to accurately assess the patient’s history and condition before surgery

How a Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help With Your Anesthesia Overdose

As with any malpractice case, it will be the patient’s job to prove exactly how the anesthesia overdose occurred and what effects the drug had on his or her health. The best step that a victim or their family can take is to retain a medical malpractice attorney right away.

Your lawyer can start by investigating the circumstances surrounding the injury or death. This includes interviews with the patient and others who possess knowledge about the incident. The goal is also to understand which individuals were involved, their relationships to one another, and their role in the injury or anesthesia overdose death. For instance, was the anesthesiologist hired by the hospital or working as an independent contractor?

After a lawsuit has been filed, your attorney can use discovery to obtain even more evidence from the hospital and other responsible parties. Discovery is a formal process by which parties to a lawsuit request and exchange valuable information and documents concerning the underlying facts of the malpractice.

Your attorney may use discovery to depose the doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists who were responsible for the anesthesia overdose. Discovery can also be used for other purposes like obtaining the personnel files of the at-fault medical practitioners and gaining access to internal correspondence and other facility records.

Your lawyer will understand the legal standards that must be met in anesthesia malpractice lawsuits. It must be demonstrated, first, that the responsible healthcare provider was expected to follow a certain standard of care in administering the anesthesia.

An expert witness can testify in court as to what exactly this standard is and how the at-fault party breached it. You must also show how this deviation from the accepted standard of care directly caused you harm (or caused death to your family member).

Compensation for Anesthesia Overdoses

It’s also a medical malpractice attorney’s role to understand the nature and amount of damages that must be quantified.

Damages may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Decreased earning capacity
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Reduced quality and enjoyment of life
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement
  • Wrongful death damages

Your lawyer will use evidence such as medical bills and work records to quantify many of these damages. Expert witnesses can also prove indispensable to estimating the future losses that a patient can reasonably be expected to incur. For instance, a vocational expert can explain how your injuries may affect your career prospects and how this might cost you in terms of future lost income, benefits, retirement, and more.

Your attorney will work to negotiate and settle your case outside of court if possible. This is typically accomplished through mediation among the parties, the lawyers, and the insurance companies.

Our firm understands how to value anesthesia malpractice cases, what to expect in negotiations with attorneys and insurers, and how to help clients weigh the benefits of settlement with the risks of trial.

If a reasonable settlement can be reached that fairly compensates you for past and expected future damages, your attorney will probably recommend accepting the offer and avoiding a trial.

However, our firm is not afraid to take a case before a jury if the insurance companies and at-fault parties refuse to negotiate in good faith.

Contact our Attorneys in South Carolina About Accidental Anesthesia Overdose

The attorneys of Rikard & Protopapas are experienced negotiators and litigators who treat each client as an individual, not merely a court docket number. We understand the real effects that anesthesia overdose can have on patients and their families and we work hard to secure the compensation they need to move on with their lives.

Find out why so many malpractice victims trust us to serve them. Call 803-978-6111 or contact us online for your consultation.

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