Woman Dies After Anesthesia Administered - $1.4 Million Settlement

The patient, a sixty-two-year-old woman, presented to a general dentist with complaints of mouth pain. She was obese and presented with a documented medical history that included high blood pressure, diabetes, and a recent hospitalization for shortness of breath, an enlarged heart, and a history of snoring. She further reported an unfavorable prior dental experience and a fear of needles. Upon evaluation, she was found to be suffering from severe periodontitis with bone loss and abscess. 

The dentist recommended that the patient have 13 teeth extracted and two root canals, and gave the patient a referral. However, the dentist also gave the patient the option of having the procedure performed by another general dentist in the same practice with the administration of nitrous oxide and a local anesthetic. The patient chose the latter and presented to the other dentist 10 days later. Upon her arrival at the dental office for the performance of the procedure, a conflict in scheduling was noted and the patient was added to the schedule of yet another dentist at a different office location the next week. 

The patient presented to the dental office the next week, and the dentist proceeded with the procedure. During the procedure, following the administration of nitrous oxide and a local anesthetic, the patient was noted to become intermittently unresponsive and EMS were called. Upon arrival, EMS noted the patient to be pulseless and apneic. She was resuscitated but sustained severe anoxic encephalopathy and remained unresponsive until her death five months later. 

The patient’s family filed a lawsuit against the defendant dentists, alleging that they breached the standard of care by failing to take an adequate medical history and further failing to obtain clearance from the patient’s healthcare providers prior to carrying out the treatment plan. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant dentist who ultimately performed the procedure administered a sedative and an anesthetic that was contraindicated for the patient. Further, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant failed to appropriately monitor the patient or respond to her arrest in a timely manner. 

The parties reached a $1.4 million settlement prior to trial. 

With permission from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts; Lewis Laska, Editor, 901 Church St., Nashville, TN 37203-3411, 1-800-298-6288.