A Fairfax County, Virginia medical malpractice jury returned its verdict on March 2, 2017 in the amount of $5.13 million in favor of the plaintiff for the permanent and extensive facial and other burns she suffered as a result of a surgical fire that happened in the operating room of a local hospital in December 2013 while she was undergoing minor surgery. The jury’s verdict will be reduced to $2.1 million to comply with Virginia’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.
The plaintiff suffered second- and third-degree burns to her face, neck, shoulders, and back when the vascular surgeon used an electric cauterizing tool to stop a bleed during a routine biopsy at the temple area of her head. The plaintiff was being administered oxygen during the procedure that provided an oxygen-rich environment in the area being cauterized. The electric surgical tool caused the oxygen to ignite, causing the plaintiff’s severe and permanent burns.
The plaintiff’s Virginia medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the vascular surgeon breached the standard of care by failing to conduct a surgical fire risk assessment before beginning the surgery that would have taken into consideration that the plaintiff would be receiving oxygen during the procedure. The plaintiff claimed that the vascular surgeon’s failure to do so led to the unanticipated but foreseeable and preventable surgical fire at and near her head.
The severity of the plaintiff’s burns required that she be transferred to another hospital’s ICU, and then its burn unit. The plaintiff had to have painful treatments for her burns and scarring over the course of several years.
The plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney stated with regard to the effect that Virginia’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases will have on the recovery that her client will receive from the jury’s verdict, “Hopefully, the verdict will serve to impress upon the [Virginia] legislature that arbitrary caps on compensation in medical malpractice cases are unfair. What is appropriate is to let the jury decide each individual case, including what is fair compensation for each victim of medical malpractice. All cases are not the same. We hope the jury verdict in this case will serve to improve patient care.”
Surgical Fire Statistics
The FDA has stated that “surgical fires are rare events that can result in serious injury, disfigurement and death. According to ECRI Institute, an estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires occur in the United States per year. Surgical fires are preventable. However, the FDA continues to receive reports of surgical fires some resulting in second and third-degree degree patient burns. Deaths are less common and are typically associated with fires occurring in the patient’s airway …
Most surgical fires occur in oxygen-enriched environments, when the concentration of oxygen is greater than in ordinary room air. When supplemental oxygen is delivered to the patient, an oxygen-enriched environment can be created. An open oxygen delivery system, such as nasal cannula or mask, presents a greater risk of fire than a closed delivery system, such as a laryngeal mask. In an oxygen-enriched environment, materials that may not normally burn in room air can ignite and burn.”
If you or a family member were the victim of a surgical fire in Virginia or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a medical malpractice attorney in Virginia or in your state who may investigate your surgical fire claim for you and represent you in a surgical fire case, if appropriate.
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