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December 11, 2015

Case Report

$900,000 medical malpractice settlement for anesthesia death of 39-year-old woman

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Sugarman Rogers partner David Barry has obtained a $900,000 settlement for the estate of a 39-year-old woman who died after undergoing surgery to remove uterine fibroids.

The plaintiff’s decedent was a 39-year-old woman who suffered from hypertension, diabetes, moderate obesity and end-stage-renal disease for which she was on dialysis. On July 26, 2011 she underwent gynecological surgery to remove uterine fibroids, which was performed under general anesthesia. The defendants were the attending anesthesiologist and a first-year resident who assisted during the procedure.

While the patient was under general anesthesia, her blood pressure dropped precipitously and remained at an abnormally low level for approximately 45 minutes. Immediately thereafter, the patient’s heart rate dropped to around 30 beats per minute and remained at that level for 15 minutes at which time her blood pressure and heart rate were finally restored. However, the patient never regained consciousness and remained in an irreversible coma until she was pronounced dead six days later.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendants negligently allowed the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate to plummet to such dangerously low levels that her brain was deprived of sufficient blood and oxygen, causing her to suffer irreversible brain damage and die. More specifically, the plaintiff claimed that because the patient suffered from hypertension, diabetes and obesity, she required a higher blood pressure to maintain adequate cerebral perfusion than would a patient without these conditions. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants precipitated the decedent’s hypotension by giving her an excessive dose of morphine and bupivacaine – medications that lower blood pressure – via epidural catheter prior to induction of general anesthesia, and then failed to properly give her sufficient doses of vasopressors to increase her blood pressure to safe levels. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants caused the patient’s low heart rate, or bradycardia, by the types of medication they administered, and that they failed to properly treat the condition until it was too late.

The decedent was unmarried and unemployed at the time of her death, and was on Social Security Disability as a result of her end-stage-renal disease. She was survived by her then 14-year-old son, with whom she had an extraordinarily close bond as his only parent. There was no claim for conscious pain and suffering, and the only damages sought were for the boy’s loss of his mother’s consortium under the wrongful death statute. The plaintiff was also prepared to introduce expert testimony that if the decedent had not died, she would, more likely than not, have received a kidney transplant and would be expected to have an additional life expectancy of approximately 30 years.