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Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners have helped millions of patients as the devices have grown in popularity over the years. But MRI systems also present a rare and bizarre hazard that has resulted in severe injuries and even death.

The danger comes from flying objects, namely metal objects drawn to an MRI’s incredibly powerful magnets, some measured at up to 50,000 times the strength of Earth’s electromagnetic field. Several years ago, a six-year-old boy was killed in New York when an MRI’s magnetic force pulled a metal oxygen tank from a technician’s hands and struck the child in the head.

(Certain gadolinium-based dyes used in MRI exams can also cause the potentially fatal disease nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, or NSF. Click here to learn more.)

In a report about magnet-related MRI injuries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration noted in a report: “There are numerous documented cases of mishaps in the MR environment that have resulted in injury and even death in a few cases.”

Another type of MRI injury occurs when the devices dislodge or disrupt metal staples, pins, artificial joints, stents and pacemakers inside patients’ bodies. While most parts and devices are now made of non-magnetic metals such as titanium, some older parts still are attracted by magnets. The FDA noted one case in which a patient with an aneurysm clip in her brain died, while another patient with an older-model cardiac pacemaker perished shortly after undergoing an MRI.

Yet flying external objects appear to pose the greatest potential danger. In one case, a patient was left blind in one eye by a metal sliver. In Rochester, N.Y., a police officer’s gun flew from his holster and shot a hole in a wall, though no one was injured. And in yet another incident, a 60-year-old man sustained fractures to his face when an oxygen canister became wedged in an MRI machine and pressed against his head. That last case resulted in a lawsuit and a reported $100,000 award.

According to one report, most of the MRI mishaps are not caused by machine malfunctions but by human error, as when metal objects are left unsecured or when patients are not asked about implanted devices that may contain metal before they undergo an MRI screening.

Some experts believe that the number of injuries due to MRI machines are vastly underestimated, especially since there are no requirements that such mishaps be reported. One expert in the field estimated that fewer than 10 percent of all mishaps are reported. An analysis by a health services research firm found 389 MRI-related incidents from 1995 to 2005.

The use of MRI systems has soared to an estimated 10,000 machines in the United States not only in hospitals but also in clinics and even mobile units. Millions of MRI scans are performed each year.

Reports have circulated widely about oxygen tanks, intravenous poles, mop buckets and even vacuum cleaners, wheelchairs, laundry carts and ladders being found jammed in MRI systems.

The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer recently carried front page stories about the potential hazards of MRIs. (See below.)

Kline & Specter, PC, withmore than 40 attorneys (several of whom are also highly regarded doctors), has broad expertise and experience in pursuing personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability claims. Our law firm has produced superb results in a large number of cases. (See our Major Victories.). At this time, we are not accepting MRI injury lawsuits.