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Surgical Fire Lawsuit Filed Against Nebraska Hospital

A surgical fire lawsuit was filed earlier this month agaist a Nebraska hospital by a Swedish woman who says she suffered disfiguring burns in a 2009 incident. 

The Nebraska malpractice lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Omaha by Malgorzata Jakobsson of Transgund, Sweden, against the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Jakobsson’s lawsuit alleges that she suffered face, head and body burns after a February 2009 surgical procedure meant to address her thoracic outlet syndrome, which causes blood vessels near the collarbone to become compressed.

Jakobsson will require cosmetic surgery to reduce the burn scars on her face, shoulder, back, neck and chest, but the surgery will probably not eliminate the scarring totally. She also claims that the procedure did not alleviate her condition.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the hospital has said it has apologized to Jakobsson and has implemented procedures to prevent future operating room fires.

Although such incidents are rare, there are about 550 to 650 surgery fires every year, according to data gathered by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System in 2007. Approximately one or two surgical fire deaths occur every year, but many more patients suffer severe and disfiguring burns as a result of the fires that are often started by a combination of electrosurgical tools, oxygen, and flammable hospital drapes.

Burns on the upper body or inside the patient’s airway account for about 65% of all surgical fire injuries. About 25% occur elsewhere on the body, and 10% happen inside the body cavity. Electrosurgical tools are involved in 70% of those fires, while 10% are caused by lasers. The rest are caused by sparks from wires, light sources, burrs or defibrillators.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has released recommendations on actions hospitals can take to reduce the risk of surgical fires. These steps include:

  • Perform regular operating room fire drills, which less than half of all U.S. hospitals currently conduct.
  • Improve communications between surgeons and anesthesiologists, such as doctors announcing when they plan to use an electrosurgical tool, so the anesthesiologist can temporarily lower the oxygen supply.
  • Expand training and education of medical staff on awareness and prevention of fires during surgical procedures.

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