Medical Negligence – Death after administration of succinylcholine

Case Name:   Allen v. The University of California

Disposition:   $400,000 settlement

Description:  43-year-old goes into cardiac arrest after administration of succinylcholine.

Facts:  43-year old plaintiff, Mr. Allen, an executive chef, was involved in a motorcycle accident in Palm Desert. The plaintiff was thrown from his motorcycle and into a picket fence at a speed of between 40-60 miles per hour. The plaintiff sustained multiple injuries which included a 16-17 centimeter laceration in the substernal area that caused his rectus muscles to protrude. The plaintiff was taken to an operating room at the UCSD Medical Center for exploratory abdominal surgery in connection with the injuries he sustained in the motorcycle accident. Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff underwent laboratory studies which revealed that he had a potassium level 5.3, which is at the high end of normal or abnormally high. During the surgery, the plaintiff was administered succinylcholine as part of his anesthesia. Within a few minutes, the plaintiff’s cardiac rhythm level became abnormal and he sustained cardiac arrest.

It took approximately thirty minutes of pulmonary resuscitation before a normal hean rate was established.  Laboratory studies following the surgery showed a potassium level of 7.3, which is consistent with hyperkalemia (elevated pottasium).

Contentions:   Plaintiff contended that the administration of succinylcholine was negligent as it is known to cause significant increases in potassium levels and hyperkalemic arresi in patients with severe trauma and intra-abdominal infections.

Defendant contended its doctors complied with the standard of care. The defendants claimed they were not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries because the potassium level was within normal limits and the succinylcholine was safe to use under the circumstances.

Injuries/Damages:    Permanent brain injury causing short-term memory loss.  Medical expenses total $35,000.  Loss income was calculated between $300,000 and $500,000.  This was disputed.

Special Notes:  The plaintiff demanded $750,000. The defendant made no offer.