Last Updated on December 26, 2023

Can You Sue Because of Epidural Errors? New York State Laws

An epidural is a form of regional anesthesia injected into the lower back that numbs sensations in the lower half of the body. It is very commonly used for pain relief during labor and childbirth.

However, if errors occur during the administration of an epidural, its commonly referred to as a “botched epidural,” which can potentially lead to serious short and long-term consequences.

Many wonder if you experience a botched epidural in New York, can you sue for malpractice?

Yes, you may have an eligible case to sue for epidural errors in New York State. New York recognizes medical malpractice lawsuits when a healthcare provider fails to exercise reasonable care and skill in providing treatment. To successfully bring an epidural error lawsuit, you generally need to show that the anesthesiologist who administered your epidural breached the standard of care and directly caused injury as a result of that breach.

What Constitutes an Epidural Error

Not all unsatisfactory outcomes after receiving an epidural are considered "botched.” True negligence must be demonstrated. There are not enough studies that can define the exact rate of epidural failures. However, a study from the Journal of Anaesthesiology and Clinical Pharmacology states that the failure rate is around 8% to 23%.

An epidural error generally falls into one of these categories:

Needle Placement Errors

Incorrect needle placement accounts for some of the serious epidural complications. Potential errors include shallow placement, deep placement, or medially deviated placement. Even expert anesthesiologists rely on "loss of resistance" as guidance, so placement mistakes can occur.

Medication Errors

A certain amount of bad epidural outcomes result from using the incorrect drug or dose. For example, accidentally injecting a numbing agent intended for local anesthesia can lead to dangerously high levels of numbness.

Failure to Treat Complications

If anesthesia staff fail to notice or properly treat an unexpected complication like a dural puncture, nerve damage can occur over time. This qualifies as negligence.

Infection

Though rare, epidural-related infections like meningitis and abscesses can develop from improperly sterilized equipment.

In the majority of cases, minor epidural complications like partial numbness or negligible injury do not constitute negligence. A demonstrable, preventable error leading to major injury is necessary.

Potential Consequences of an Epidural Error

The range of physical injuries stemming from an epidural error depends largely on the type and magnitude of the mistake. Some potential consequences include:

Nerve Damage and Paralysis

Incorrect needle placement or delivery of anesthetics into the spinal fluid can chemically or physically damage nerves. Injury to the spinal cord or nerve roots may result in temporary or permanent motor weakness and paralysis in parts of the legs/torso. Recovery varies significantly by case.

Brain Damage

Rarely, severe complications can arise, leading to brain injury due to a temporary lack of oxygen. Permanent cognitive disability is possible.

Chronic Pain Disorders

Nerve trauma can trigger complex regional pain syndrome, leading to severe, disabling pain that persists for months or years. Treatment is very difficult.

Infection and Abscess

Epidural abscesses require surgical drainage and long term antibiotic therapy. Meningitis involves hospitalization and IV treatment. In rare cases, infection can spread systemically or to the brain.

Death

Estimates indicate maternal deaths attributable to anesthetic complications accounted for around 0.03% of pregnancy-related deaths between 2011 and 2014. Relative risk is higher for epidurals compared to other anesthesia. The most common causes are anesthesia-related cardiac/respiratory arrest and severe systemic infection.

In addition to physical harm, PTSD and other emotional/psychological issues stemming from a traumatic birthing experience are a real possibility after a major epidural complication. Effects may also impact family members and newborns.

Demonstrating Negligence in New York

The core legal basis for a lawsuit after a botched epidural rests on the concept of medical malpractice committed through provider negligence. New York statutes establish professional conduct duties and standards that all healthcare facilities must legally adhere to.

To successfully prove a botched epidural case in court, several strict criteria must be met, including:

Duty of Care

Physicians have a legal duty to adhere to professional standards when treating patients. This obligates them to act reasonably to prevent harm. Expert testimony establishes customary procedures.

Breach of Duty

Plaintiffs must show through records and testimony that preventable errors violating standard epidural protocols occurred. Common breaches include improper equipment use, anatomical misidentifications, poor needle placement, medication errors, or failure to treat complications. Even minor deviations unnecessarily increasing risk can qualify.

Causation

A link must be demonstrated between breaches of duty and the resulting harm. Plaintiff experts explain how errors led to complications via biological, chemical, or anatomical mechanisms. Breaches must have necessitated, directly caused, or worsened injury.

Injury/Damages

Quantifiable financial and emotional harm stemming from negligence must be shown, including medical costs, lost income, pain, suffering, disability, etc. A demonstrable injury is mandatory.

Crucially, undesired outcomes alone following an epidural do not intrinsically constitute negligence. Within healthcare, serious complications sometimes unpredictably occur despite perfectly reasonable care.

The essence of a valid claim relies on factually proving through expertise that substandard practices breached duty of care in a way that unavoidably precipitated what would have otherwise been a preventable, or at least mitigable, injury. This is why it’s extremely important to contact a legal expert well-versed in the laws of medical malpractice

The Role of Medical & Legal Experts

Because clinical standards, biological mechanisms, and legal doctrines related to epidurals can be highly technical, cases essentially boil down to a “battle of the experts.” Skilled New York medical malpractice lawyers know how to present sympathetic victims, interrogate defendant physicians, and leverage convincing specialist testimony to establish negligence and causation arguments.

They also assist in collecting documentation, estimating total damages, negotiating settlements, and, when necessary, litigating before jury trials if extra-judicial resolution proves impossible.

While in principle justice appears straightforward, in practice legal intricacies make lawsuits extremely challenging. Thus, those considering pursuing action are advised to temper expectations, remain realistic regarding the probability of success, and seriously consider mediation. Consultation with medical malpractice attorneys at the Porter Law Group who are well-versed in NY malpractice law is vital.

Pursuing Legal Action After An Epidural Error

Suing for medical malpractice is rarely straightforward; however, many legal options may exist if you or a loved one experienced a preventable epidural error resulting in a major injury.

As a first step, seek prompt care to address the health impacts if complications develop after an epidural. Save all medical records and document events in detail. Contact a qualified medical malpractice or birth injury lawyer for guidance.

A lawyer can help investigate, ascertain if negligence occurred, and handle your claim appropriately. Get in touch with the Porter Law Group today. Send us a message at info@porterlawteam.com or call us at 833-PORTER9 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation.

Written By
Eric C. Nordby
Personal Injury Attorney
Eric, with nearly three decades of experience in personal injury litigation, holds a law degree with honors from the University at Buffalo School of Law and a Bachelor's Degree from Cornell University. His extensive career encompasses diverse state and federal cases, resulting in substantial client recoveries, and he actively engages in legal associations while frequently lecturing on legal topics.
Legally Reviewed on December 21, 2023
Michael S. Porter
Personal Injury Attorney
Originally from Upstate New York, Mike built a distinguished legal career after graduating from Harvard University and earning his juris doctor degree from Syracuse University College of Law. He served as a Captain in the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, gaining expertise in trial work, and is now a respected trial attorney known for securing multiple million-dollar results for his clients while actively participating in legal organizations across Upstate NY.
This Article Was Professionally Reviewed
This page was Legally Reviewed by Michael S. Porter on December 21, 2023. Our experts verify everything you read to make sure it's up to date. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have any questions about our content please contact us.
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