Patients catching fire in hospital operating rooms

A Pennsylvania nurse anesthetist was found negligent after a patient suffered second-degree burns to the larynx, face and chest during surgery. The nurse administered additional oxygen without first informing the surgeon of what steps had been taken, and the surgeon then activated an electrical device that caused a fire.

Unfortunately, such surgical errors are more common than one might expect. Mistakes made by anesthesiologists while administering such oxygen has often led to severe burns or injuries for patients undergoing a surgical procedure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have reported that as many as 550 to 650 surgical fires occur every year.

Attorneys that routinely undertake medical malpractice cases often understand precisely how such accidents in the emergency room can occur. Medical malpractice can occur under routine circumstances where hospitals do not have procedures in place to prevent an emergency from occurring. Such malpractice also can occur when no procedures are put in place to respond to such an emergency if it does occur.

In almost all surgical fires, three factors must be present: (1) an oxidizer distributing oxygen or nitrous oxide; (2) an ignition source (which can include almost any electrical device frequently used in surgery); and (3) a flammable object such as tracheal tubes, sponges or drapes. Obviously, it is routine to have all three factors present during a surgical procedure.

When such conditions are present, surgical staff should be taking all necessary precautions to make certain that a fire is not ignited. It goes without saying that no patient should have to endure severe burns while being administered anesthesia. When such injuries do occur, hospitals need to be held accountable in order that such mistakes do not continue into the future.

Source:, “FDA focusing on patients catching fire in operating rooms,” by Aisling Swift, June 12, 2012