Surgery Fire Lawsuit Filed Over Operating Room Mishap

A medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed against an Oklahoma doctor after an operating room fire left a breast cancer survivor with severe and permanent burns to her face and the inside of her throat and mouth. 

The surgery fire lawsuit was filed by Jack and Connie Plumlee against Dr. Brad Garber in Tulsa. The complaint alleges that Dr. Garber was performing reconstructive breast surgery on Connie Plumlee when a fire erupted in the operating room due to negligence on the part of the surgeon.

Plumlee went to see Dr. Garber in December at Saint John Medical Center after having survived a double mastectomy due to breast cancer. During the surgery, after Dr. Garber had swabbed Plumlee with alcohol, he lit up a cauterizing tool which sparked the operating room fire. The flames caught on the drapes and ignited and partially melted the breathing tube down Plumlee’s throat.

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Plumlee has suffered severe damage and deformation to her face, lips, the inside of her mouth and tongue, according to a local news report from The lawsuit says that she is in terrible pain and will have multiple surgeries to repair some of the damage, but she is most likely scarred for life.

The plaintiffs say that Dr. Garber told her initially that she would not have scars from the surgery fire accident, and said that the damage would be similar to a chemical peel. When that turned out not to be the case, the Plumlees told that they tried to settle with Dr. Garber out of court, but to no avail.

According to data gathered by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System in 2007, there are about 550 to 650 surgery fires every year, typically resulting in one or two deaths. However, 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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