An hour into a 62-year-old woman’s coronary bypass, the power went
out in the operating room for 10 minutes, and the generator never kicked
on, according to
Albuquerque Journal.

“Even though the power was restored, the surgical team, citing ‘patient
safety reasons,’ aborted the procedure and closed her incisions,”
the July 27, 2014, article said.

Four days later, the patient died from “cardiogenic shock with multi-organ
failure secondary to her surgery,” her family’s
wrongful death attorney told reporters. The family filed a lawsuit for “failure
to maintain the systems that are critical for the functioning of the operating
rooms.”

Seven months after the family filed its claim, the facility sued the contractors
who upgraded the hospital’s electrical system in 2009. A hospital
spokesman blamed a circuit breaker glitch for the power failure, since
no other operating room lost electricity.

In fact, he told reporters via email, “There wasn’t a ‘true’
power outage on August 11, 2011, because the electrical power to the operating
room was ‘never fully lost.’”

Still, technicians couldn’t assure surgeons the circuit breaker wouldn’t
trip again, so the doctors closed the patient’s chest instead of
performing the bypass. The family’s lawsuit did not hold the doctors
liable for her death.

Power Outage Death Not an Isolated Incident

Unfortunately, a number of patients have died during power outages at hospitals
and nursing homes. For instance, October 25, 2010, news station WVEC reported
that a scheduled power outage during construction led to the death of
a 76-year-old woman who suffered severe bleeding after surgery.

“A generator ran emergency equipment, but the rooms had no lights
and the nurses had to use flashlights,” WVEC stated. “[The
family alleged] no one noticed the problem because of the darkness and,
by the time the condition was discovered, it was too late.”

Thirteen months later, a 49-year-old woman died when her ventilator shut
off at a nursing home that lost power, per
NY Daily News. A woman visiting another resident said staff told her a cable blew out,
and that’s why the generator never initiated.

In 2012,
Bloomberg said as many as 34 patients died during Hurricane Katrina when a hospital
lost electricity. When a lightning strike interrupted an operation in
1998, quick-thinking staff members located searchlights and the hospital
administrator called the fire department, which climbed ladders to shine
light through the windows, so the surgeon could close the patient. The
next day, the hospital called forensic engineers to determine why the
generator hadn’t worked.

“Not knowing what we would find, we began removing electrical panel
covers,” said Robert E. Garrett for the Electrical Construction
and Maintenance website (EC&M). “Our flashlight beam swept across the main terminals of the emergency
section of the ATS [automatic transfer switches]. There was the problem!
There were no conductors to the terminals! The generator output panel
covers came off next. There were no conductors leaving the generator terminals!
There was simply no connection between the generator and the ATS.”

Who was to blame for such an error? The electrical subcontractor? The city
code authorities?

“We questioned those who witnessed the installation as well as those
understanding the hospital’s policies,” Garrett said. “To
minimize costs, [the hospital administration] didn’t hire the architect
or consulting engineers for necessary continual inspection of the work.
The hospital staff served as their own project management, assigning less
than competent people to oversee the construction, while doing other duties.
Specializing in steel and concrete, the general contractor did his work.
However, hospital administrators hired and directly supervised the subcontractors,
including the electrical team. … Once normal power fed the facility,
hospital management thought all connections were made (a reasonable assumption)
and didn’t wish to do any testing. Upon completion of construction,
the hospital’s management paid the contractors, hung a ribbon across
the entrance, cut it, and opened their new facility for business.”

If a loved one died during a power outage in a hospital or nursing home, attorney
Chris Mellino welcomes you to
contact our Cleveland office with any questions you may have about liability in
your potential claim.