Anaesthesia malpractice – When and how to claim

23 Jul 2020

Injuries and deaths due to anaesthesia malpractice are alarmingly high in South Africa.

What constitutes malpractice?

Even when anaesthetic is properly administered, complications can occur.

However, it constitutes malpractice if an anaesthetist fails to follow accepted standards of care.

For example, an anaesthetist could be found negligent for:

  • administering the wrong dose of anaesthetic
  • failing to monitor a patient who’s under anaesthetic
  • not recognising complications
  • not ensuring adequate supply of oxygen to a patient
  • improper intubation, causing injury to the teeth, throat or mouth
  • failing to protect the airway during anaesthetic mobilisation, resulting in displacement of an endo-tracheal tube.

When to consider a claim

If it’s clear that malpractice by an anaesthetist resulted directly in injury or death of a patient, grounds exist for a malpractice claim.

Generally, a claim has to be made within three years.

If the claimant is a minor, the claim can be made within three years of the minor reaching age 18. Other exceptions can also apply.

How to claim compensation

A medical malpractice claim can be made against an individual anaesthetist or against the hospital where the malpractice occurred.

In the case of a state hospital, it’s the state itself that may be found liable.

To pursue a claim, it’s important to hire a suitably qualified attorney, with experience in malpractice involving anaesthesia.

It must be possible to show that negligence by the anaesthetist was the direct cause of harm or injury.

For example, medical records, witness statements and testimony by medical experts may all support a claim.

Anaesthesia malpractice in South Africa

General anaesthesia, which puts patients completely “under”, involves the greatest degree of risk.

It’s most commonly used during surgical procedures in hospitals.

However, spinal anaesthesia – which is a form of regional anaesthesia – and even dental anaesthesia can be risky if improperly administered.

Spinal anaesthesia and malpractice

South Africa has a shockingly high incidence of injuries and deaths due to spinal anaesthesia.

A study in the South African Medical Journal reported that almost 80% of deaths associated with anaesthetic complications involve spinal anaesthesia.

Spinal anaesthesia is very widely used during elective and emergency Caesarean sections.

Especially in district hospitals, very few doctors are properly trained to administer spinal anaesthetic. Overburdened doctors are also often required to perform tasks simultaneously – for example, giving anaesthetic and reviving a newborn.

Dental anaesthesia: malpractice examples

DSC Attorneys handled a tragic case in which a two-year-old child was anaesthetised for a routine tooth extraction. The procedure, conducted at a Stellenbosch hospital, lasted just minutes.

However, the child wasn’t properly monitored. Oxygen deprivation during the procedure resulted in permanent brain damage. The matter was later settled for a substantial sum.

In another, earlier case in Vereeniging, an anaesthetist gave a two-year-old boy an incorrect dose of anaesthetic. He also failed to monitor the boy.

Tragically, the child stopped breathing and died. His parents pursued civil action against the anaesthetist.

Medical malpractice claims with DSC Attorneys

At DSC Attorneys, our attorneys and medico-legal team have extensive experience in handling medical malpractice claims, including those involving anaesthesia.

We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We work on a no win, no fee basis.

Contact us for more information or to discuss your anaesthesia malpractice claim.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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