Negligently performed surgeries resulting in nerve damage is unfortunately a common type of medical negligence. Patients suffering from nerve damage may experience paralysis, loss of motor function, severe pain, loss of sensation or feeling (permanent or temporary), seizures, and/or scaring and deformity.
The most common causes of nerve damage are improper administration of anesthesia and the negligent use of surgical tools. A surgeon may cut, clamp or badly stretch a nerve in the “operative field” without ever identifying or protecting the nerve. In other cases, a nerve may be placed under prolonged pressure, resulting in damage due to loss of blood supply.
Nerve blocks used to manage pain or local anesthesia may be incorrectly administered, resulting in serious nerve damage. The result can be that blood flow to specific nerve or the central nervous system and brain can be prevented. These types of errors will often occur during childbirth, potentially resulting in permanent, life-changing disabilities.
Surgeons know where the nerves are and how to avoid them, especially major nerves, such as those that control sensations and movement in the arms and legs. However, there are times when a surgeon doesn’t have a choice in whether he or she needs to get close to a nerve. That nerve may become damaged, but as long as the surgeon recognizes the problem immediately and reports it in the “operative report” then a malpractice claim may be difficult to make from that injury.
However, if the injury isn’t recognized until the patient reports symptoms, then the patient may have a malpractice claim. Failure of the operative report to describe steps taken to protect the nerve, and the nerve is damaged in a way that the surgeon fails to notice, then the patient may be able to make the claim that the surgeon was not paying attention.
The surgeon and the anesthetist or anesthesiologist have a duty to ensure that the patient is positioned so that gravity and other pressures do not cause nerve damage to patients who have been immobilized and are therefore helpless to protect themselves.
Nerve injuries that can result from positioning include:
- Damage to the ulnar nerve at the elbow due to the patient lying on their arm.
- “Drop foot” which results from sciatic nerve damage in the hip caused by stretching the leg for pelvic surgery. When this occurs, the patient cannot flex the foot up and down.
- Damage to the shoulder nerve can result in diminished ability of the patient to use their hand.
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