Intubation Errors / Airway Malpractice

As most everyone knows, whenever doctors need to perform a serious medical/surgical procedures on a patient, that individual will require some sort of ventilation assistance to survive during the procedure. In order to assist a patient's ability to breathe, these doctors will "intubate" the patient. Intubation involves inserting a long tube down the patient's trachea (airway) that is connected to a ventilator. The ventilator acts as the "lungs" for the patient during the procedure. Although a very common occurrence, the act of intubation is actually very complicated, complex and fraught with potentially dangerous complications that could lead to severe, life-threatening (or altering) complications.

Placement/Removal Injuries to the Trachea / Esophagus / Vocal Cords / Nerves

For starters, sometimes the doctor who is placing the tube in the trachea injures it while the tube is being placed or removed. This occurs despite the very thorough guidelines and protocols that these doctors have developed and years of training that they have undergone. Injuries to the trachea itself are often perforations of the delicate tissue that lines the trachea or even punctures of the trachea. Naturally, these injuries can be quite painful and require surgical intervention to repair. In addition to the injury to the trachea itself, intubation procedures have been known to cause other types of injuries such as vocal cord paralysis, perforated esophagus, injuries to the lip, mouth or teeth, nerve damage or infections.

Improper Placement of Tube / Dislodged Tube / Disconnected Tube

More serious complications can occur, however, if the doctor who is placing the breathing tube improperly places it in the patient's esophagus (not the trachea) or the tube becomes dislodged or disconnected at any point during the operation. The standard of care for any placement of an intubation tube is for the doctor to ensure that the tube is not only placed in the right position within the trachea but that it remains there during the entirety of the procedure. This is done by taking intra-operative x-rays of the tube's placement following the placement and/or during the procedure to ensure that it is securely within the trachea. In addition, anesthesiologists and other health care providers must carefully monitor the patient's oxygenation levels (oxygen saturation levels) to ensure proper amounts of oxygen are circulating through the patient's lungs and body. If the tube is not placed properly and/or becomes dislodged, however, the end result is that the patient does not receive oxygen for an extended period of time. When the brain does not receive a sufficient amount of oxygen for an extended period of time, patients are said to have suffered an anoxic (no oxygen) or hypoxic (insufficient level of oxygen) injury to the brain. Patients who experience an anoxic or hypoxic event are at a high risk of suffering a stroke, catastrophic brain injury and/or death.

Recent Verdicts/Settlements

Verdicts and settlements against anesthesiologists and other health care providers who place breathing tubes are unfortunately commonplace. In a recent Chicago case against 3 anesthesiologists, a woman was brought to surgery for a hip replacement. The first anesthesiologist failed to intubate her despite several attempts. The second and third anesthesiologist failed multiple times as well. The effect of the multiple failures at intubation, however, caused the woman's trachea to swell shut, blocking off oxygen and causing her to suffer cardiac arrest. She later died. The case settled for over $11 million.

In another case against an anesthesiologist, a patient had a number of risk factors for breathing fluid and other foreign substances into her lungs. The anesthesiologist ignored these risk factors and administered general anesthesia. Once anesthetized, she began breathing bile into her lungs and later died. A jury awarded over $20 million.

Finally, in Chicago, a 28 year old woman was awarded nearly $35 million after she experienced severe brain damage from the deprivation of oxygen after the anesthesiologist failed to secure the intubation tube once it was placed. The tube became dislodged as a result, resulting in an insufficient level of oxygen being delivered to brain.

STSW's Medical Malpractice / Wrongful Death team is led by two of the region's most accomplished trial lawyers, Andrew G. Slutkin and Jamison G. White. With over 40 years of experience between them, Mr. Slutkin and Mr. White are uniquely suited to investigate, litigate and take to trial any case involving intubation errors or airway malpractice resulting in catastrophic injury or death. Call our team for a free consultation at 410-385-2225 if you or a loved one have been victimized by a health care provider's failure to secure an airway, failure to monitor an airway and/or failure to ensure adequate oxygenation during a surgical procedure.