An active 89-year-old woman in Florida was scheduled for surgery on August 31, 2013, for an arterial biopsy due to internal bleeding. She was brought to the operating room and fitted with an oxygen mask to provide her with oxygen during the surgical procedure. The procedure involved the use of electrocautery that allegedly caused a surgical flash fire in the presence of the oxygen-rich environment.
The surgeon attempted to removed the surgical drapes placed on the woman’s face that had caught fire but the woman nonetheless suffered serious burn injuries, including to her throat. She suffered burns to 25% of her body.
The woman was transported to the burn unit of another hospital and spent 140 days in various hospitals until she died from her injuries on January 23, 2014. She endured five months of pain and suffering, with bandages on her face.
Surgical fires are fires that occur in, on, or around a patient who is undergoing a medical or surgical procedure. Surgical fires are preventable medical errors. An estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires occur in the United States every year (there are other fires in operating rooms but they are extinguished before they reach the patient).
Most surgical fires occur in an oxygen-enriched environment. Factors that increase the risk of surgical fire include alcohol-based skin preparation agents that are very flammable when they are still wet (such agents may may pool in the skin folds (especially with overweight patients) and need time to dry before surgery begins), the placement of surgical drapes in such a way that they allow oxygen to pool under them (surgical drapes can trap alcohol vapors from skin preps, which can ignite if exposed to heat and oxygen; head and neck surgical procedures pose a greater risk of fire due to the potential for an oxygen-rich environment around a patient’s face from a breathing mask), and the handling of ignition sources is such a way that the risk of a surgical fire is increased. Fires burn hotter and faster in an oxygen-enriched environment.
A recent analysis of closed medical malpractice claims since 1985 within a database of the American Society of Anesthesiologists found 103 closed medical malpractice claims related to fires in the operating room. The ignition source was electrocautery in 90% of the claims. Surgeries involving the head, neck, and upper chest represented 85% of the electrocautery fires. In 95% of the electrocautery-induced operating room fires, oxygen was the oxidizer. Eighty-one percent of the electrocautery-induced fires occurred during monitored anesthesia care. Only 15% of operating room fires during monitored anesthesia care were due to alcohol-containing prep solutions and volatile compounds.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) due to a surgical fire, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and losses. It is important to promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney in your state to investigate your surgical fire claim for you and represent you, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free at 800-295-3959 to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your U.S. state who may assist you with your surgical fire claim.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.