Becky Anderson Wins $30 Million Lawsuit After Her Throat Caught Fire In Routine Surgery

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A woman whose throat caught on fire when she went in for minor surgery to take some polyps off of her vocal cords, and who can no longer speak or breathe on her own as a result, won a total of $30 million in her malpractice lawsuit, a jury in Seattle ruled last week after a six-week trial.

When 55-year-old Becky Anderson went in to Central Washington Hospital for the elective procedure in February of last year, she expected to come out with nothing more than a short healing period for her larynx after her doctor removed the polyps with a laser.

But in the middle of the surgery, the breathing tube used to keep her supplied with air while she was under anesthesia burst into flame, searing her throat. She was quickly flown to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center where she underwent several surgeries.

Her injuries were so terrible that she was still confined to that hospital three months later when she filed her lawsuit against her doctor Donald Paugh, the anesthesiologist Linda Schatz and their respective employers, Wenatchee Valley Medical Center and Wenatchee Anesthesia Associates.

She also sued Central Washington Hospital (pictured) where the surgery was carried out — and botched. The hospital earlier settled with Anderson for $12 million.

Last Thursday, the jury in Washington’s King County Superior Court awarded Anderson another $18 million: $9.45 million from Schatz and her employer, $7.65 million from Paugh and his.

She also sued Medtronic, Inc., makers of the air tube that blew up, saying that the company’s design of the tube was faulty and should have included a “double cuff” that, Anderson charged, would have prevented the oxygen in the tube from igniting when exposed to the laser beam.

In addition, her lawsuit blamed her doctors for using pure oxygen in the breathing tube, rather than regular air, because pure oxygen is more flammable.

But the jury found that Medtronic was not responsible for the fire and didn’t make the company pay anything.

Anderson’s lawyer, Paul Luvera, praised the doctors for helping Anderson even though they fought the malpractice claim in court.

“The physicians in this case denied responsibility in the courtroom, but at the same time took extraordinary efforts to help the family weather this as best they could,” Luvera said. “I know Becky and her family appreciate the compassion they’ve shown.”

SOURCES: The Wenatchee World, Law 360