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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Power Outage During Open Heart Surgery

Mellino Law Firm

An hour into a 62-year-old woman’s coronary bypass, the power went out in the operating room for 10 minutes, and the generator never kicked on, according to Albuquerque Journal.

“Even though the power was restored, the surgical team, citing ‘patient safety reasons,’ aborted the procedure and closed her incisions,” the July 27, 2014, article said.

Four days later, the patient died from “cardiogenic shock with multi-organ failure secondary to her surgery,” her family’s wrongful death attorney told reporters. The family filed a lawsuit for “failure to maintain the systems that are critical for the functioning of the operating rooms.”

Seven months after the family filed its claim, the facility sued the contractors who upgraded the hospital’s electrical system in 2009. A hospital spokesman blamed a circuit breaker glitch for the power failure, since no other operating room lost electricity.

In fact, he told reporters via email, “There wasn’t a ‘true’ power outage on August 11, 2011, because the electrical power to the operating room was ‘never fully lost.'”

Still, technicians couldn’t assure surgeons the circuit breaker wouldn’t trip again, so the doctors closed the patient’s chest instead of performing the bypass. The family’s lawsuit did not hold the doctors liable for her death.

Power Outage Death Not an Isolated Incident

Unfortunately, a number of patients have died during power outages at hospitals and nursing homes. For instance, October 25, 2010, news station WVEC reported that a scheduled power outage during construction led to the death of a 76-year-old woman who suffered severe bleeding after surgery.

“A generator ran emergency equipment, but the rooms had no lights and the nurses had to use flashlights,” WVEC stated. “[The family alleged] no one noticed the problem because of the darkness and, by the time the condition was discovered, it was too late.”

Thirteen months later, a 49-year-old woman died when her ventilator shut off at a nursing home that lost power, per NY Daily News. A woman visiting another resident said staff told her a cable blew out, and that’s why the generator never initiated.

In 2012, Bloomberg said as many as 34 patients died during Hurricane Katrina when a hospital lost electricity. When a lightning strike interrupted an operation in 1998, quick-thinking staff members located searchlights and the hospital administrator called the fire department, which climbed ladders to shine light through the windows, so the surgeon could close the patient. The next day, the hospital called forensic engineers to determine why the generator hadn’t worked.

“Not knowing what we would find, we began removing electrical panel covers,” said Robert E. Garrett for the Electrical Construction and Maintenance website (EC&M). “Our flashlight beam swept across the main terminals of the emergency section of the ATS [automatic transfer switches]. There was the problem! There were no conductors to the terminals! The generator output panel covers came off next. There were no conductors leaving the generator terminals! There was simply no connection between the generator and the ATS.”

Who was to blame for such an error? The electrical subcontractor? The city code authorities?

“We questioned those who witnessed the installation as well as those understanding the hospital’s policies,” Garrett said. “To minimize costs, [the hospital administration] didn’t hire the architect or consulting engineers for necessary continual inspection of the work. The hospital staff served as their own project management, assigning less than competent people to oversee the construction, while doing other duties. Specializing in steel and concrete, the general contractor did his work. However, hospital administrators hired and directly supervised the subcontractors, including the electrical team. … Once normal power fed the facility, hospital management thought all connections were made (a reasonable assumption) and didn’t wish to do any testing. Upon completion of construction, the hospital’s management paid the contractors, hung a ribbon across the entrance, cut it, and opened their new facility for business.”

If a loved one died during a power outage in a hospital or nursing home, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office with any questions you may have about liability in your potential claim.

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