Hospital Burn Injuries
Research indicates that hundreds of people each year are affected by hospital burns as a result of a hospital fire. Most hospital fire lawsuits involve injury from ER fire or ER burn. Although the FDA has set guidelines regarding hospital fire safety, hospital injury lawyers are investigating an increasing number of hospital burn lawsuits.
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Given that 50 million surgeries are performed each year in the US, hospital burns are rare. But most every surgical burn can be prevented. If you have suffered a hospital burn you may have legal recourse to seek compensation and file a medical malpractice lawsuit, typically for negligence and/or a defective medical device.
Hospital emergency rooms and operating rooms contain the three primary elements needed to ignite a fire:
- An oxidizer (anesthesia products such as oxygen and nitrous oxide)
- Fuel (surgical drapes, alcohol swabs, etc.)
- An ignition source (lasers, electrosurgical devices such as a cautery knife, etc.)
About 70 percent of all surgical fires are started by "Bovies", which are electrosurgical tools that use a high-frequency electric current to cut tissue or stop bleeding. About 20 percent of hospital fires are sparked by burrs, defibrillators, hot wires or light sources, while approximately 10 percent are ignited by lasers.
(For more information and a list of Fuels Commonly Encountered in Surgery, visit surgicalfire.org ) According to the ECRI Institute, all operating room or surgical fires ignite on or near a patient, causing little damage to hospital equipment. They come as a complete surprise to the medical staff, and can cause severe damage to patients. They can often singe linen, hair, or instruments and the patient could be completely unaware of the incident.
The FDA and its partners, including the Empowered Patient Coalition, have issued online guidelines regarding Patients on Surgical Fires, including "Ten Things Patients Should Know":
- 1. Know the Risk: There are approximately 650 surgical fires each year. In addition, other fires start but are put out before they reach the patient. Fires in the operating room are rare but potentially life-threatening.
- 2. How Fires Happen: Three things have to be present for a fire to start. This "Fire Triangle"includes heat, a source of "fuel"(something that will burn) and oxygen.
- 3. Surgical Fires are Preventable: Surgical fires do not have to happen and can be avoided with proper precautions and communication by the surgical team.
- 4. Head and Neck Surgery: Procedures in the head and neck area pose a greater risk of fire due to the potential for an oxygen-rich environment around a patient' face from a breathing mask.
- 5. Pre-Operative Skin Cleansers: Skin "preps"often contain alcohol, which is flammable. Skin cleaners may pool in the skin folds –especially on overweight patients – so these cleansers need time to dry before surgery begins.
- 6. Draping: Surgical drapes can catch fire and they can hide the "pooling"of liquid alcohol skin preps. Drapes can also trap alcohol vapors from skin preps, which can ignite if exposed to heat and oxygen.
- 7. Devices used to Cut Tissue: Tools such as electrocautery (tissue-cutting) units (sometimes called a Bovie), lasers, fiber-optic lights and cables can generate heat or sparks and cause a fire. These devices are also used in dental offices, so ask about safety precautions.
- 8. Facial Hair: Hair on the face may need to be covered with water soluble jelly – this is important for head and neck surgeries and for patients with beards, moustaches and thick eyebrows.
- 9. Room Air: If possible, the patient should be kept on room air and not highly concentrated oxygen. If extra oxygen is needed, it should be the lowest concentration that is safe for the patient.
- 10. Staff Training: Ask if the staff is trained in preventing, recognizing and putting out surgical fires. What precautions do they have in place to protect patients? Will fire extinguishers be readily available in the OR?
Hospital Burns Lawsuits
August 2010--ongoing: A New York father claims his daughter, who underwent a hysterectomy at a Bronx hospital, died as a result of the da Vinci surgical robot defective design. The hospital burn lawsuit claims the woman' artery and intestines were burnt due to design flaws that include un-insulated surgical arms and use of electrical current which can jump to healthy internal organs and tissue. As well, the lawsuit claims that Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturer, failed to conduct randomized studies to assess complications that may be associated with use of the da Vinci Surgical Robot.
This hospital burn lawsuit is the first of several alleging the da Vinci robot causes burns and serious injuries.
June 2011: A Texas family files a medical malpractice lawsuit against Texoma Medical Center, a doctor, anesthesiologist and other defendants after a surgery fire breaks out during a pacemaker implantation. According to the complaint, a cauterizer used by the doctor ignited the fire and was made worse by the anesthesiologist who used too much oxygen. Further, the patient was swabbed with a flammable skin prep solution that should have been allowed to dry before surgery began. The surgical burn lawsuit alleges the patient suffered permanent damage as a result of negligence on the part of the hospital and staff.
February 2012: A medical malpractice lawsuit, accusing a nursing home and occupational therapist of negligence, is filed by a man claiming his father' hands were severely burnt from heat therapy treatments. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages plus the costs of "hospital, medical, surgical and nursing expenses"for treatment of the patient' condition. It claims the man experienced "extreme pain and suffering"until his death.
April 2012: A woman having a cesarean section delivery files a medical negligence lawsuit against the hospital. An alcohol-based antiseptic caused her skin to ignite and caused third-degree burns on her lower abdomen. 3M, the manufacturer of the flammable antiseptic, had recently warned hospitals that its product could potentially ignite a surgical fire.
When surgical instruments, from antiseptics to robots, are combined with negligence on the part of medical staff, improper safety procedures or hospital malpractice, an operating room surgical fire can result in serious hospital burn.
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