$1.5 Million Settlement After Man Dies From Intubation Error During Surgery | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our Virginia medical practice client died following an intubation error during hip replacement repair surgery. The 58-year-old man’s wife and two adult children survived him, and the family pursued this wrongful death case on his behalf.

The man had dislocated his prosthetic hip in a fall and was referred from the emergency room for immediate surgery. Surgeons and anesthesiologists understood that the procedure would be complicated by the man’s previous cervical fusion and long-term rheumatoid arthritis. Both pretexting conditions would cause breathing difficulties while he was under sedation and also make inserting a breathing tube difficult. The man had limited range of motion in his neck and narrowing along his trachea.

Several attempts to insert a breathing tube failed, and our client stopped taking in air altogether. By the time an emergency tracheotomy was performed, the man had suffered an irreversible hypoxic brain injury. He lingered on life support for two weeks before dying in hospice.


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Key Legal Strategy

We assigned three medical malpractice attorneys to this wrongful death case. One of the legal team’s first actions was to research the standards of care for surgery and anesthesiology. They also requested and paid for an independent autopsy by a pathologist.

Reports from three anesthesiology experts and the pathologist indicated that our client died as a direct result of the intubation error and subsequent loss of oxygen to his brain. Based on this clear evidence of failure to meet standards of care, our Virginia medical malpractice attorneys filed lawsuits against several parties.

The legal team then deposed nurses and physicians involved in the ultimately fatal hip repair surgery, as well experts who were prepared to testify at trial on behalf of our client and on behalf of the respondents/defendants. The interviews strengthened the conclusion that our client suffered and died because the plan to secure his airway while he was under sedation failed to conform with usual practices.

Despite this, the respondents to the lawsuits denied making any mistakes or breaching the applicable standards of care. They did, however, agree to take the case to mediation rather than make our client’s surviving family members fight things out in front of a jury.

Going into mediation, our Virginia medical malpractice attorney based their settlement demand on an expert economist’s estimate of the deceased man’s earnings if he had survived the surgery. That amount was supplemented with an assessment of the cash value of the services their client would have provided to his household.

A one-day mediation session ended with our client and his family receiving a total settlement of between $1.5 million and $2 million. The exact details of the various agreements with the multiple respondents were sealed by mutual assent.

Every patient who goes under complete anesthesia during surgery faces some risk for suffering a disabling or deadly hypoxic brain injury. Our Virginia medical malpractice client was at even greater risk, but the members of his surgical team failed to take all the proper precautions to protect his life. We are pleased to have been able to hold the negligent health care providers accountable.

Date: April 2013

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro and two other staff attorneys