Anesthesia errors are medication errors. Gases and drugs used to put patients to sleep, relax muscles, temporarily paralyze nerves and block pain can cause serious injuries and death when given to the wrong patients or administered in the wrong combinations and doses. As an article on safe anesthesia practices notes, “The Institute of Medicine … report highlights that 44000-98000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors, a large portion of these being medication related.”


Overdoses, allergic reactions, adverse drug interactions and underdoses all harm patients. In fact, as stated on the Mayo Clinic website, “Estimates vary, but about 1 or 2 people in every 1,000 may be partially awake during general anesthesia and experience what is called unintended intraoperative awareness.” The pain experienced by a person who mistakenly regains consciousness during surgery is almost unimaginable.

Anesthesia errors take many other forms, as well. These include, but are not limited to,

  • Airway obstruction due to improper positioning of the patient’s head and shoulders
  • Oversedation, which slows or stops breathing
  • Miscalculating doses based on inaccurate or missing information about the patient’s weight, age and use of other medications
  • Using monitoring devices improperly or misinterpreting real-time information on the patient’s response to anesthesia
  • Responding too slowly or incorrectly to warning signs that the patient’s health or life is in danger

Anesthesiologists, dentists, nurses, surgical aids, pharmacists and pharmacy technician all make anesthesia errors. Almost every of those mistakes could be prevented by addressing a root cause such as a lack of training, poor equipment, inadequate oversight or the simple failure to follow standard procedures for protecting the patient. Sometimes, a doctor or pharmacist who gets sued for medical malpractice related to an anesthesia error will admit to never having reviewed the injured patient’s chart.

As Virginia medical malpractice attorneys, we often remind juries that every person involved in administering and monitoring anesthesia has legally enforceable duties to be trained, attentive, alert and careful. Failing to meet those duties and provide the proper standard of care makes a doctor or anyone else liable for medical malpractice.