An Alabama jury has returned a $20 million verdict in an anesthesia medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died during surgery when bile entered her lungs.
The wrongful death lawsuit was brought against Coastal Anesthesia, Dr. Randal Boudreaux and Nurse Don Ortego following the January 2006 death of Paulett Pettaway Hall. The complaint alleged that Bourdreaux and Ortego, the anesthetist, failed to identify that Hall had risk factors for breathing fluid into her lungs, despite the information being available in her medical record.
Hall was preparing to receive exploratory surgery to determine the cause of severe stomach pains when she received the anesthesia. Once anesthetized, she began breathing bile into her lungs and later died. According to a report in the Mobile Press-Register, the family alleged that the defendants did not examine Hall’s abdomen or medical records before giving her anesthesia, which could have prevented her death.
Following trial, a Mobile County jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and awarded $20 million in damages.
Anesthesia deaths accounted for more than 2,200 deaths between 1999 and 2005, according to a study published this year in the medical journal Anesthesiology. The study found that anesthesia is the underlying cause in about 34 deaths each year in the U.S., and a contributing factor in about 281 other deaths. A little over 46% of those deaths are due to anesthesia overdose, while anesthesia complications like Hall’s accounted for just under 11% of such deaths.