With any procedure involving the heart or a patient's heartbeat, there is a risk of injury or death, and a pacemaker implant is no exception. Most complications stemming from this kind of procedure will not lead to a viable medical malpractice claim, but some will. Others may lead to a product liability lawsuit against the pacemaker manufacturer. Read on to learn more.
A pacemaker implant is a surgical procedure in which a small electronic device is implanted in the chest to regulate the electrical properties of the human heart. The device is often placed just below the collarbone, and leads are run through large veins in the chest directly into the heart. Electrodes on the end of the leads transmit small amounts of current to the heart.
Pacemakers are used to treat irregular heartbeats. When the electrical conduction system of the heart (the part that makes it beat) falls out of rhythm, the pacemaker kicks in, regulating the heartbeat. If a heartbeat becomes too slow, the pacemaker sends current through the leads forcing the heart back onto a regular pattern. If the heartbeat becomes too fast, the pacemaker serves as a monitor, collecting information that medical professionals can use to determine why the heart is not beating regularly.
Pacemakers are used to treat several common heart conditions. Bradycardia (a slow heartbeat), Tachy-brady syndrome (a heartbeat that is alternately too slow or too fast) and heart blocks (a variety of conditions causing the electrical signals to be delayed or blocked) are all treated -- usually successfully -- with pacemakers. These are just some of the many conditions pacemakers can assist with.
As with any surgery, a pacemaker implantation carries with it the risk of bleeding and/or infection. There is also the possibility that blood vessels could sustain damage during the procedure. Pneumothorax, a condition where air becomes trapped between the chest wall and the interior of the lung, is a risk if a lung is punctured during the procedure. It is important to note that complications can develop even absent medical negligence on the part of a doctor or other health care professional.
As in any malpractice case, pacemaker implant malpractice hinges on a medical professional's duty to abide by the medical standard of care. The standard of care is the level of care that a reasonably competent medical professional, with similar education and in same or similar circumstances in the same medical community, would provide given the same set of treatment circumstances. The standard of care is a local standard, meaning that it varies geographically.
If a provider breaches the standard of care and causes injury, a patient will likely have a viable medical malpractice claim.
If, during pacemaker implant surgery, a medical professional punctures a lung, damages the heart, or causes some other type of injury, that physician may have violated the standard of care. Along those same lines, a pacemaker that is not implanted properly could also be considered a violation of the standard of care. If the pacemaker is not implanted correctly, a patient can experience lightheadedness, fainting spells and debilitating heart palpitations. These can affect a patient's ability to live and work and can wreak havoc on a patient's day-to-day life.
A doctor is also charged with monitoring and reacting to a patient's condition during the implantation process. On the off chance that a patient experiences adverse symptoms during implantation, the standard of care demands that a doctor recognize the patient's condition and alter or cease treatment accordingly. Failure to do so could be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
There is a large body of lawsuits related to faulty pacemakers. More often than not, these cases fall under the heading of products liability and not medical malpractice. However, it is possible that a medical malpractice case could arise if a faulty or defective pacemaker is knowingly implanted into a patient's body.
Due to the number of lawsuits arising out of pacemaker manufacturing defects, doctors have the ability to learn which brands and batches of pacemakers have been deemed defective. As with any product manufactured in a defective manner, doctors are obligated to avoid implanting such devices in patients. A doctor's failure to confirm the serial number of a pacemaker, and the device's fitness for use, could be held liable for medical malpractice, and a concurrent lawsuit could be filed under products liability theories.
The overwhelming majority of pacemaker implant surgeries are successful. But if complications result in harm to a patient, you may want to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal options.