Surgical Fire Lawsuit Filed Over Burns During Heart Surgery

A Florida hospital faces a medical malpractice lawsuit over a surgical fire that caused a man to suffer second-degree burns to his shoulder, chest and neck during a pacemaker operation. 

The complaint was filed by Frank Komorowski against NCH Downtown Naples Hospital, as a result of injuries he received in March 2008.

According to the lawsuit, Komorowski caught on fire while on the operating room table. The incident is believed to have started with a cauterizing device set DuraPrep, an alcohol-based antiseptic. The complaint indicates that if the DuraPrep been given more time to dry, the operating room fire may not have occurred.

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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.

Last year, the FDA launched a new initiative designed to prevent operating room fires by increasing awareness about the causes of surgical fires and practices that can reduce the risk of such events.

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 operating room 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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