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NYC Patient Catches Fire During Tracheotomy


Posted on May 08, 2012

A South Bronx doctor is now in the hot seat, so to speak, for setting a patient on fire and allegedly trying to cover it up several weeks ago.

Enrique Ruiz, 52, was admitted to the Lincoln Hospital emergency room on April 14 with pneumonia and bronchitis. On April 19, he underwent a tracheotomy to have a breathing tube inserted.

The surgeon, Dr. Jay Yelon, was operating his electronic scalpel, which gave off sparks that ignited Mr. Ruiz's oxygen supply. A "minor explosion" then engulfed Mr. Ruiz's chest and neck while he was unconscious. He suffered second-degree burns and awoke "in searing pain."

The NY Post reports that a cover-up is being alleged because Dr. Yelon did not mention the burns in his post-surgery report. Instead, he wrote that the burns were not a danger to the patient. He also told reporters he was unaware of the burns.

Incidents that cause harm to patients must normally be reported to the NY Health Department, which is only now looking into the matter. As for Mr. Ruiz, a "life-saving emergency procedure" has left him in a position from which he is "expected to fully heal."

Surgical fires occur about 500 to 600 times annually in the nation. 25 to 30 of these suffer severe burns, some of which prove fatal.
RES IPSA LOQUITUR would apply here. "Res ipsa" is a legal doctrine where the injured victim would not have to bring in a medical expert to testify that the burns should not have happened. It's just common sense. This patient went into surgery for his trachea and wound up with significant burns to his chest. This legal doctrine only applies when the doctors and hospital staff are in total control of the environment. Since the patient was under anesthesia, there is no way he caused or contributed to his own injury.

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Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer