April 18, 2012

The last place you would expect to suffer burns from a fire would be while lying on a table in an operating room. But that is just what happened to a New York woman who was undergoing a Cesarean-section delivery of her baby on March 12, 2010. While she was under the influence of local anesthesia with her view obstructed by a surgical curtain, the mother-to-be smelled something burning and could see smoke. Her obstetrician who was performing the surgery noticed a flame coming from the woman’s left side and patted the flame to extinguish it, telling his patient that there had been “a little fire” but not to worry.

The woman gave birth to a healthy baby but she suffered a 5 by 7 inches area of third degree burn on her left side where an alcohol-based antiseptic had been used to prepare her for surgery. The antiseptic, known as DuraPrep, was manufactured by the large manufacturing company, 3M Company. One month before the woman’s surgery, 3M Company, at the direction of the FDA, had issued a new warning to hospitals regarding DuraPrep’ s flammability and instructed hospitals on how to prevent fires, which the surgical staff providing care to the woman was unaware of.

The woman has filed a medical malpractice case against her obstetrician and the hospital where her surgery occurred, alleging that they failed to follow the recommendations from 3M Company regarding use of DuraPrep. The woman had to have plastic surgery for her burn injury and the area that was burned constantly feels numb and feels like it will tear open.

The obstetrician had used DuraPrep for 20 years before the woman’s surgery, without any fire incidents. The hospital stopped using DuraPrep for a period of time but reinstated its use with procedures in place to prevent fires.

The fire evidently started when the obstetrician was using an electrical cautery tool that may have caused a spark that ignited the fumes from the DuraPrep that was not allowed to dry prior to the procedure (3M Company instructed that DuraPrep must be allowed to dry completely before being exposed to a flammable source). A fire would also be possible if the DuraPrep soaks into the patient’s gown or into surgical drapes or somehow pools around the patient (the woman’s anesthesiologist testified during a deposition in the medical malpractice case that the anesthesiologist had noticed that the woman’s gown was wet with what could only have been DuraPrep, after the fire).

Of the 50 million surgeries performed each year in the United States, there are only between 400 and 600 surgical fires involving patients, with only 4% of those fires involving skin preparation solutions such as DuraPrep.


Surgical fires are so rare that when they do occur, an investigation into the incident by a medical malpractice attorney may help determine if the cause of the fire and the resulting injuries to the patient were due to medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one have been injured due to a surgical fire or other medical incident that may have been the result of medical negligence, click here to visit our website or call us toll free at 800-295-3959 to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be able to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice lawsuit on your behalf, if appropriate.

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