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At the end of last month, an Alabama jury voted to award $20 million the family of a woman who died during surgery when bile entered her lungs. The wrongful death lawsuit was brought against Coastal Anesthesia, Doctor Randal Boudreaux and Nurse Don Ortego after the January 2006 death of Paulette Pettaway Hall. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the anesthesiologist failed to recognize that Hall had risk factors for breathing fluid into her lungs, as was indicated in her medical records.

Hall was to undergo exploratory surgery to determine the cause of severe stomach pains when she received the anesthesia. After receiving the anesthesia, Hall began to breath bile into her lungs and subsequently died. The lawsuit alleged that the medical staff failed to examine Hall’s abdomen or check her medical records, which could have prevented her death.

According to a study in the medical journal Anesthesiology, deaths caused by anesthesia accounted for more than 2,200 deaths between 1999 and 2005. The study also found that 34 deaths each year are attributable to anesthesia, with 46% of those deaths caused by anesthesia overdose. Anesthesia complications, such as Hall experienced, account for 11% of the 34 deaths per year.

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