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Airway Accidents Can Lead to Serious Injury, Death

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Airway Injuries Can Have Life-Ending Consequences

Airway injuries generally occur when a health care provider fails to properly manage a patient's airways. This can occur during intubation - when the patient has a breathing tube inserted down his or her throat, nasal passage or directly into the trachea - or during extubation, when the tube is removed. Airway injuries also can occur when a health care provider fails to timely clear a patient's airway.

Some of the injuries can be minor, like bruising of the esophagus. Others, however, can be quite severe and result in permanent injury, disability or death. Some examples of airway injuries include:

· Vocal cord paralysis

· Granuloma

· Arytenoid dislocation

· Brain injury or death from inadequate ventilation

· Scarring, injury caused by premature extubation

Patients also can suffer serious complications when they are improperly intubated or when medical staff fail to properly monitor their condition. For example, patients may suffer lung damage, stroke or hemorrhage from improper airway management.

Who is Responsible for Airway Injuries?

Generally, anesthesiologists are in charge of performing intubations. These specialists have developed very specific, very important algorithms for intubating patients and managing airways. The algorithms determine which actions anesthesiologists need to take and when, and the exact steps that must be taken to complete the action. The algorithms are so precise that there is little room for personal judgment or variations from standard protocol.

Despite the fact that anesthesiologists developed the intubation algorithms, not all anesthesiologists correctly apply them. Airway injury claims are the fourth most common type of medical malpractice claim against anesthesiologists, after wrongful death, nerve damage and brain injury claims.

Anesthesiologists are not the only practitioners who may be responsible for causing an airway injury. In many situations - especially in emergencies - anesthesiologists are not the principle specialists called in to manage a patient's airways. Some of the other health care providers who may intubate a patient include:

· ER doctors

· Intensivists

· Internal medicine physicians

· Nurse anesthetists

· Nurses and nursing students

· EMTs

Unfortunately, these health care providers are not always properly trained to manage airways. As a result, they may fail to follow the algorithms correctly, and even minor deviations from the established algorithms can lead to serious injuries to patients, including brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Due to the nature of the work and the importance of maintaining the airway, these serious injuries often include death.

For this reason, it is critical that any health care provider who may be called upon to manage a patient's airways has the proper training to do so correctly.

Legal Options After an Airway Injury

Patients and their family members have important legal options available to them following an airway injury. These options include:

· Medical malpractice claim. When a patient's medical condition is worsened by the negligent acts of a physician, the patient has the right to bring a medical malpractice action. In a medical malpractice suit, the patient must prove that the physician failed to meet the accepted standard of care in providing medical services to the patient and that the patient was injured as a result.

· Hospital liability claim. If an anesthesiologist, intensivist, nurse or other hospital employee committed the wrong, the hospital also may be liable for the resulting injury. Like physicians, hospitals also owe a duty of care to their patients. This includes hiring competent and well-trained staff to provide medical care to patients.

· Wrongful death claim. In cases when a patient dies from the negligent acts of a health care provider, the patient's family has the right to bring a wrongful death claim. Generally, wrongful death claims are brought on behalf of the family by a personal representative of the deceased family member.

Many people may feel uncomfortable bringing a medical malpractice, hospital negligence or wrongful death claim. Unfortunately, hospitals and medical boards do not always properly police and sanction their own when they make mistakes. When these mistakes seriously injure patients or cost them their lives, they need to be held legally accountable for their actions. Otherwise, these negligent health care providers may continue to harm other patients.


For more information on the available legal options following an airway injury or other preventable medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today.