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Anaesthetic negligence claims

If you have suffered an injury as a result of an anaesthesia error or anaesthetic awareness, you could be entitled to make an anaesthetic negligence claim for compensation.

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Anaesthetic Negligence Claims

An anaesthetic is a drug used during certain tests or medical interventions to temporarily numb the sensations in some areas of the body or to induce sleep. This enables a wide range of medical procedures to be carried out without feeling any pain or discomfort.

However, several complications can arise from an anaesthesia mistake, including anaesthetic awareness, anaphylactic shock, permanent nerve damage, brain damage and even death. If you suffered an injury due to a medical error, you might be able to file an anaesthetic negligence claim.

As a general rule, you have three years to take legal action starting from the date of negligence or when you became aware of your injuries. The compensation for an anaesthesia error covers pain, suffering and all the related financial losses and expenses you incurred.

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Speak to a legal advisor, today!

Friendly legal advisors are available to discuss your anaesthetic negligence claim today.

  • Find out if you have a valid claim
  • A risk free, no win no fee* service
  • We are available 7 days a week
  • Experienced personal injury lawyers

Can I make an anaesthetic negligence claim?

Not every medical mistake will entitle you to claim compensation. Medical negligence can be a complicated area of law and open to interpretation in each individual case. That is why the easiest way to find out if you are eligible to make an anaesthetic awareness claim is through a free consultation with an experienced medical negligence solicitor.

To be eligible to claim compensation for an anaesthesia error, you will need to demonstrate that:

  • A doctor or anaesthetist breached their duty of care towards you by acting negligently.

Your anaesthetist had a duty of care towards you to act as a competent and skilful healthcare professional with the same training would do under the same circumstances. If they failed to keep you safe while you were under anaesthesia, you might have a negligence claim.

A breach of duty in a medical negligence claim can sometimes be difficult to prove. Your solicitor will seek advice from medical experts in the field to determine whether your anaesthetist failed to do something within their duty or did something they should not have done. They will use tools such as the Bolam test to show that the care you received was below the standard accepted in the field.

  • Their negligence led to an anaesthesia mistake (causation)

To establish causation, you must prove that the anaesthesia error was a direct result of the anaesthetist’s negligence and that it caused you a significant injury. If a healthcare provider breached their duty of care towards you, but this has not affected your health, you would not have a valid claim for compensation.

  • You suffered an injury or the effects of anaesthetic awareness as a result (damages)

You need clear evidence of the injury you suffered due to the anaesthesia mistake and how it affected your life. In every anaesthetic negligence claim, you can recover damages for pain and suffering, as well as any financial losses and expenses caused by your injury, such as lost wages if you had to take time off work.

Your solicitor will help you gather evidence of your losses, such as medical reports, witness statements and proof of long-term needs for care and assistance.

Once you have all the necessary evidence, your solicitor will contact the other side and inform them of your allegations of negligence. If they admit liability, you may begin to negotiate a settlement for your anaesthetic claim. Otherwise, you may have to issue court proceedings and argue our claim before a judge.

To find out if you have an anaesthetic awareness claim, enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.

What types of anaesthesia are there?

Anaesthesia is commonly used in hospitals and dental practices to numb a part of the body or sedate patients when performing certain operations or procedures. Anaesthetics are generally categorised into three types, depending on whether or not you can be conscious during your intervention:

Local anaesthesia

A local anaesthetic prevents the transmission of nerve impulses to the brain without causing unconsciousness. It numbs a small area of the body while the patient remains awake but experiences little or no pain. Usually, it takes only a few minutes to lose feeling in the body part where the drug is injected.

Regional anaesthesia

Regional anaesthetics are a form of local anaesthetics that numb a large part of the body, typically from the waist down. This type of anaesthesia is often used during childbirth and, occasionally, for more major surgery when you need to be awake, such as brain surgery.

Local and regional anaesthetics are generally very safe, and severe problems are rare. Some temporary side effects may include dizziness, blurred vision, twitching muscles or headaches.

General anaesthesia

General anaesthetics affect the central nervous system and are used for surgical procedures where it is safer or more comfortable for you to be unconscious. Before the intervention, you will meet with an anaesthetist who will discuss which type of drug is more suitable for you and explain the risks of anaesthesia.

The general anaesthetic is either given as a liquid injected into your veins during the procedure or as a gas that you breathe in through a mask. The anaesthetist will monitor you during the intervention and make sure you remain unconscious the entire time. They will also give you painkillers intravenously to ensure you will be comfortable when you wake up.

General anaesthetics have several common side effects, such as vomiting, bladder problems, confusion and dizziness, which should resolve in a day or two. They may also cause several rare, more severe complications like allergic reactions, anaesthetic awareness and death.

If your anaesthetist acted negligently and caused you to suffer an injury during your medical intervention, you might be entitled to file an anaesthetic claim. A free consultation with a legal adviser can let you know if you can take legal action and what steps you should take to secure compensation for your pain, suffering and financial losses.

What are the most common anaesthesia mistakes?

Anaesthesia is vital for modern medicine and, in most cases, it is administered without complications. Some patients may occasionally experience mild side effects such as headaches, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, however, anaesthetic negligence may lead to more severe complications, such as:

  • Severe allergic reactions – According to NHS estimates, a life-threatening allergic reaction to anaesthetics occurs in 1 in 10,000 patients, of which more than 95% will survive and generally recover well.
  • Permanent nerve damage – If the anaesthetic is incorrectly injected into the spinal cord or nerves are damaged by needles, this can result in long-term tingling, numbness, severe pain and life-changing disabilities, such as paralysis.
  • Brain damage and stroke – Failure to detect a lack of oxygen to the brain or to monitor the heart rate and regulate the blood pressure during surgery can result in strokes or brain damage, with life-changing consequences.
  • Anaesthetic awareness – An inappropriate decrease in the anaesthetic levels during surgery can cause the patient to wake up during surgery and feel unbearable physical pain while being unable to move or talk. This can cause severe psychological trauma and lead to anxiety, depression and PTSD.
  • Death – Death under general anaesthesia is a very rare event that occurs in around 1 in 100,000 healthy patients. However, the risk may increase depending on certain factors such as smoking, being overweight and other personal factors.

Some common errors that may lead to an anaesthetic negligence claim include the following:

  • Failure to consider the patient’s medical history
  • Administering too much or too little anaesthetic
  • Not controlling the IV flow rate of the drug properly
  • Miscommunication in the surgical room
  • Administering anaesthesia too late or being sedated for too long
  • Turning off warning alarms on vital equipment
  • Failure to explain the risks of surgery and anaesthesia to the patient
  • Failure to intubate
  • Failure to detect or adequately respond to complications during anaesthesia
  • Incorrect monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs during the intervention
  • Administering anaesthetic to a patient who is allergic

If you or a loved one suffered an injury due to an anaesthesia error, you might be entitled to compensation. If you feel you may have a valid anaesthetic claim, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.

What is anaesthetic awareness?

Anaesthetic awareness is another possible complication of an anaesthesia error, where a patient does not experience the expected type and level of sensation loss and might awake during a medical intervention. This can happen due to an inappropriate decrease in the level of drugs used for sedation.

If the anaesthetist does not become aware of this, the patient may hear what is happening and even experience severe pain, while being unable to move or speak to let doctors know they are aware. If this has happened to you or a loved one, you might be eligible to make an anaesthetic awareness claim.

Due to advances in technology and pharmaceuticals, anaesthesia today is safer than it has ever been. According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, anaesthetic awareness is a very rare event, affecting as few as one in 14,000 patients. However, when this happens, it can lead to devastating emotional and psychological consequences, such as long-term anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Anaesthetic awareness can present with a variety of signs and symptoms, such as:

  • High heart rate and elevated blood pressure
  • Patient movement
  • Rapid and shallow breathing (tachypnea)
  • Intravenous anaesthesia line infiltrated or occluded

Patients may have two types of memory after an anaesthesia awareness event:

  • Explicit or conscious memory – you can remember and describe the event with or without being prompted by cues or questioning. Sometimes it may take several days or longer to become aware of these memories.
  • Implicit or unconscious memory – the anaesthetic awareness may still affect your mental health even if you do not consciously remember the event, leading to changes in performance or behaviour.

Some of the most common causes of awareness during anaesthesia include:

  • The patient physiology. Some factors such as young age, obesity, a fever, heavy drinking or drug use could make some patients more resistant to the effects of anaesthetics than others.
  • Equipment failure. Machine malfunctions or misuse of equipment such as vaporisers or IV infusion pumps may result in inadequate delivery of the anaesthetic drug.
  • Anaesthesiologist error. Human errors such as inappropriate drug use, giving the wrong drug or the wrong route, drugs given in the wrong sequence, inadequate monitoring and many other mistakes can contribute to anaesthetic awareness.
  • Light anaesthesia. Certain operations where less anaesthetic tends to be used, such as cardiac surgery or emergency surgery for major trauma, have a much higher chance for awareness.
  • Missing the signs of anaesthetic awareness. Anaesthetists are trained to monitor the depth of anaesthesia and take action if the patient shows signs of consciousness, such as sweating, hypertension, tachycardia or dilated pupils.

Anaesthetic awareness can have severe consequences and cause long-lasting damage to your mental health and well-being, such as:

  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Repetitive nightmares and flashbacks
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

If your life was affected by the consequences of an anaesthesia mistake, you might be entitled to compensation. To start an anaesthetic awareness claim, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation.

What evidence will I need to claim for an anaesthesia error?

If your solicitor believes you have a valid anaesthetic negligence claim, they will help you gather enough evidence to secure the compensation you deserve. If possible, you should try to gather some evidence in advice, such as:

  • A list of all the medical appointments you had before and after the incident
  • Print out any emails or other communication you had with your healthcare professional about the treatment and associated risks
  • Medical reports from independent specialists that your solicitor will arrange for you
  • Your detailed statement about how the anaesthesia error affected your life
  • When possible, photographs to show the extent of the damage you suffered
  • Witness statements from friends and family
  • Proof of expenses and loss of earnings, such as receipts, pay slips or invoices
  • Keep a record of all the care and assistance you received after the anaesthesia error
  • Supporting evidence showing that you were given the wrong anaesthetic or incorrect dosage

If you have little evidence or are claiming on behalf of a loved one and do not have all the details, do not worry. Your solicitor will be able to gather everything you need to support an anaesthetic claim and make sure you are fully compensated for your pain and suffering.

How much compensation is an anaesthetic negligence claim worth?

There is no set compensation award for an anaesthetic negligence claim. After your solicitor investigates what happened and how the anaesthesia mistake affected your life, they will be able to give you an estimate of your compensation prospects.

This will depend on several factors, including the type and extent of the injuries you suffered and whether they have long-term or permanent effects. In every anaesthetic negligence or awareness claim, compensation will take into account the following categories of damages:

General damages cover the effects your injury had on your life and family, including:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional distress
  • Psychological trauma
  • Physical and mental disability
  • Loss of consortium or companionship
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Loss of prospects and enjoyment of life
  • Inability to pursue a hobby

Special damages cover the financial losses you have experienced as a direct result of your injury, such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Treatments and rehabilitation
  • Adaptations to your home or vehicle to accommodate a disability
  • The cost of medical equipment
  • Care and assistance
  • Travel expenses related to medical visits
  • Lost wages and loss of earning capacity

The compensation for special damages is calculated by adding up all the past financial losses that can be proven with evidence, such as receipts and bank statements. Your solicitor will also work out all the financial expenses you are expected to incur in the future, which could include future loss of wages if you are unable to return to work.

General damages are awarded by considering the guidelines published by the Judicial College. This is a government department in the Ministry of Justice that sets out recommendations for general damage amounts based on previous successful claims. According to their recommendations, you could receive the following:

  • Around £46,300 for temporary paraplegic paralysis caused by nerve damage
  • £240,000 to £320,000 for severe damage to the spinal nerves leaving the victim in need of permanent care
  • £14,380 to £40,410 for a moderate brain injury that may cause long-term memory and concentration problems, with a small risk of epilepsy
  • £85,150 to £140,870 for moderate damage to intellect, high risk of epilepsy and low chances of returning to work
  • £140,870 to £205,580 for a brain injury causing severe damage to intellect, personality changes and sensory problems
  • £264,650 to £379,100 for very severe brain damage leaving the victim in permanent need of care
  • £3,950 to £8,180 for PTSD with minor symptoms and complete recovery within two years
  • £23,150 to £59,860 for moderately severe PTSD that will likely cause significant disability for the foreseeable future

To start your anaesthetic negligence claim or find out more about how much compensation you could be entitled to receive, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation. Or, if you would prefer to receive a call back, please enter your details into our online claim form.

Is there a time limit to make an anaesthetic claim?

As a general rule, the time limit to bring an anaesthetic claim is three years. This will either begin on the date on which the negligence took place or the date you became aware of your injuries, also known as the date of knowledge.

If you do not start legal proceedings within the applicable time limits, your case becomes statute-barred. Under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980, the court has the authority to override the limitation period when it is fair and reasonable to do so. However, this authority is only exercised in exceptional circumstances.

There are several exceptions to the three-year limitation period to file an anaesthetic negligence claim:

  • If the victim is under 18, a parent, guardian or another litigation friend could claim on their behalf at any time, regardless of when the negligence happened. If no one has pursued compensation for them, the victim has another three years to claim once they turn 18.
  • If the victim is mentally incapacitated, the time limit is suspended. This could be due to a brain injury caused by the anaesthesia error or another condition, such as:
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • An intellectual disability like Down syndrome
    • A mental health condition such as schizophrenia or severe depression
    • A neurodegenerative condition like Alzheimer’s disease
  • If you suffered from a medication error abroad, you could still file an anaesthetic awareness claim. The time limit can vary significantly from country to country and could be much shorter than three years, so you must seek legal advice as soon as possible.
  • If you lost a loved one due to an anaesthesia mistake, you could claim compensation within three years from the date they passed away or the date a post-mortem confirmed the cause of death.

In any case, the sooner you speak to a legal adviser, the easier it is to gather evidence, speak to witnesses and build a strong anaesthetic claim. As this could take a lot of time, most solicitors will not take on a case within six months of the limitation date, even if it has merit.

Can I make a claim on behalf of somebody else?

Any person who suffers a personal injury due to someone else’s negligence is entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering. However, the victim is sometimes too young or cannot handle their case for various health issues. In this case, they are entitled to be represented by a litigation friend in an anaesthetic negligence claim.

A litigation friend can be any adult who can conduct legal proceedings fairly and competently and has no conflict of interest with the victim. Most often, the role is assumed by a close friend or family member, but the litigation friend could also be a social worker, solicitor, or someone else with a lasting power of attorney.

If you want to act as a litigation friend on behalf of someone else, your solicitor will help fill in the required paperwork and file your request with the court. This role brings many long-term responsibilities that you should consider before making a decision, such as:

  • Keep updated on the legal proceedings
  • Attend any court hearings
  • Pay any fees requested by the court
  • Sign legal documents and make decisions about the claim
  • Make sure the victim attends all medical appointments
  • Consult with solicitors and take legal advice
  • Consider any compensation offers

If you settle an anaesthetic claim on behalf of a child or an adult who lacks the mental capacity, you might also need to attend an Approval Hearing. A judge will examine the available evidence and rule whether the victim was fairly compensated.

Your role as litigation friend ends:

  • When a child turns 18 and can handle their case themselves;
  • If an adult recovers from their illness and regains their intellectual capacity;
  • When the claim comes to an end;
  • If you or someone else applies for a replacement with a valid reason.

If you want to start an anaesthetic negligence claim on behalf of someone else, you can call 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation with a legal adviser. Or, if you prefer, enter your details into our online claim form, and you will receive a call back to discuss your circumstances.

Can anaesthetic negligence claims be made using no win no fee?

If you suffered an injury due to an anaesthesia mistake, you might consider pursuing compensation for your pain and suffering. However, the thought of investing a lot of time and money into an anaesthetic claim may seem daunting when you have no certainty that you will recover damages.

No win no fee was introduced in the 1990s to give everyone a chance to claim compensation for a personal injury, regardless of their financial situation. If your solicitor believes you have a valid case with a fair chance of success, they will represent you without asking for any upfront fees.

The conditional fee agreement between you and your solicitor offers many other advantages, including:

  • You will receive free support and advice throughout the claims process;
  • Your solicitor will help you gather all the evidence you need to make a successful anaesthetic negligence claim;
  • They will handle all the legal aspects of your claim so you can focus on recovery and your loved ones;
  • Your solicitor will know exactly how much compensation you should receive for your injury and past and future financial expenses;
  • They will negotiate with the other side to secure the best settlement possible;
  • If your case fails, you do not have to pay them a single penny from your pocket.

As part of your no win no fee agreement, your solicitor will also take out After the Event (ATE) insurance on your behalf at the beginning of your claim. The ATE is a legal expenses insurance that covers all the expenses and disbursements incurred during litigation, such as:

  • The other side’s solicitor fees
  • Court and counsel fees
  • Medical reports
  • Expert witness fees
  • Barrister fees if your case goes to trial

If your anaesthetic awareness claim is successful, the defendant will cover most of your costs and legal charges. You will keep all of your compensation, minus a few deductions:

  • Some basic legal fees that may not be recoverable from the other side, such as the cost of a medical report that was not relevant to your case;
  • The cost of the ATE insurance policy:
  • A success pee that is paid to your solicitor for the risk they took by offering you a conditional fee agreement. This is discussed at the beginning of your case and cannot exceed 25% of your compensation for past financial losses and general damages.
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Speak to a legal advisor, today!

Friendly legal advisors are available to discuss your medical negligence claim today.

  • Find out if you have a valid claim
  • A risk free, no win no fee service
  • We are available 7 days a week
  • Experienced personal injury lawyers

*Personal injury claims are provided on a no win no fee basis. If your claim is successful, your solicitor will receive a success fee of up to 25% of your compensation. If any additional costs could be payable, such as taking out legal protection insurance, these would be fully explained upfront by your solicitor before you decide to proceed with your claim. Termination fees may apply based on time spent on your case, or in situations such as: lack of cooperation, deliberately misleading your solicitor, failing to attend scheduled medical or expert examinations, or not appearing at a required court hearing. Please visit our guide to no win no fee claims page for further information.


Last edited on 17th Jul 2024

With over 15 years in the legal industry, Nicholas Tate has a wealth of knowledge and experience covering all types of personal injury and clinical negligence claims.