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When Can a Blood Transfusion Become a Medical Malpractice?

Blood transfusions are among the most common procedures performed in hospitals. Despite this, they are also one of the most dangerous.

Blood contamination and the transmission of infectious diseases have been known to occur as a result of blood transfusion errors.

The truth is that not all medical professionals follow best practices regarding blood transfusions, and this has caused some patients to suffer irrevocable damage as a result of medical malpractice.

What is Blood Transfusion Malpractice?

Blood transfusions transfer blood or its components from one person to another, typically in an emergency. It can be whole blood, red cells, white cells, plasma, or platelets. There are two types of improper blood transfusion that can happen when giving a blood transfusion:

An error in judgment happens when someone incorrectly decides that the situation warrants a test.

Misidentification happens when someone gives the wrong type of blood to the recipient because they did not correctly check what kind of blood was needed.

Types of Blood Transfusions

There are four main types of transfusions. Each type has its own risks and benefits.

Whole Blood

The oldest form of transfusion therapy, whole blood, comprises red cells, white cells, platelets, clotting factors, antibodies, and other substances that help the body fight infection. The risk of contracting an infectious disease from this type is not very high because it is from the donor’s bloodstream, which has been filtered to remove pathogens like HIV or hepatitis B or C.

Red Blood Cells

The most common form of transfusion therapy involves about two million people annually in the United States alone. These are rich in hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. People with low hemoglobin levels (anemia) will receive this transfusion to increase their oxygen carrying capacity and relieve symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath.


These are important for people with bleeding disorders or undergoing a bone marrow transplant. They help your body make blood clots and heal wounds quickly by increasing platelet count and helping with clotting. It also helps reduce bleeding during surgery.


Plasma is rich in proteins known as clotting factors. They can help people suffering from bleeding disorders that hinder their body’s ability to produce clots. In addition, they can be helpful to those undergoing a bone marrow transplant because they can clot blood more efficiently. Transfusions are usually used when there is no time for someone’s body to replenish depleted supplies. However, some people need regular transfusions even if they do not have any problems related to these areas.

Transfusion Errors

Though most blood transfusions go smoothly, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. If you or a loved one has suffered from a transfusion error, you may wonder if it was simply an error or if it rose to the level of medical malpractice. The answer will depend on what type of transfusion occurred and whether any pre-existing conditions caused complications worsened by the error.

In many cases, mistakes that arise from negligence on behalf of the hospital are considered medical malpractice.

When an error is considered negligence, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will automatically be successful in your case. In addition to proving that negligence occurred, you must also prove that it directly led to the injury. While these cases can be complex for patients, there are legal options for seeking compensation for any serious health complications.

Improper blood transfusions include:

1. Wrong Type of Blood Delivered to Patient

A patient may receive the wrong blood type. For example, they could be Rhesus-negative when they are Rhesus-positive. The foreign blood cells could cause severe problems that might even lead to death. Sometimes, a person may have antibodies in their system that aren’t compatible with receiving certain blood types.

It can also lead to an acute hemolytic transfusion reaction. This reaction happens when incompatibility between the donor’s and recipient’s blood destroys some of the recipient’s red blood cells. Symptoms include fever, chest pain, heart palpitations, and low oxygen levels.

2. Wrong Volume of Blood Transferred

To ensure that all cells receive adequate oxygen, patients should get enough blood during surgery. Unfortunately, there are instances where surgeons may not get enough blood from the donor or give too much. Either way, this leads to decreased levels of oxygen in the patient’s cells, which could result in severe injury or death.

3. Incorrect Amount of Hemoglobin

In rare cases, doctors may administer too little hemoglobin to a patient. Hemoglobin carries oxygen through the body, so having less than needed puts them at risk for brain damage or death.

Some Factors to Consider When Determining if You Have a Case

Type of Injury

The type of injury suffered due to a blood transfusion is essential for determining whether or not it was negligent. For example, kidney failure or death caused by an allergic reaction to donor plasma could constitute medical malpractice.

Type of Care Provided

Another factor in determining liability is the level of care provided during and after the transfusion. For example, doctors must give specific tests before and after a blood transfusion to ensure no incompatibilities between the patient’s antibodies and those found in donated blood. A doctor who fails to follow this standard would be considered negligent and liable for any injuries.

What Was Known at the Time

When evaluating negligence in a blood transfusion malpractice claim, courts will also look at what was known about incompatibility risks at the time of treatment. For instance, if doctors knew there were risks associated with giving Rhesus-positive patients Rh-negative blood but did so anyway because they were running out of supplies, they may be liable for damages.


If you think you or a loved one may have been the victim of medical malpractice, seeking legal counsel as soon as possible from  J.P. Ward and Associates law firm is essential.

We have a team of experienced personal injury attorneys who will be able to review your case and help you determine if you have a claim.

Call us today at (412) 426-4878 for a free consultation and let us answer any questions you may have about filing a lawsuit.