BACKGROUND Anesthesia is associated with complications, and some of them may be fatal. The authors investigated the circumstances under which deaths were associated with anesthesia. In Denmark, the specialty anesthesiology encompasses emergency medicine, chronic and acute pain medicine, anesthetic procedures, perioperative care medicine, and intensive care medicine. METHODS The authors retrospectively investigated anesthesia related deaths registered by the Danish Patient Insurance Association. RESULTS From 1996 to 2004, 27,971 claims were made by the Danish Patient Insurance Association covering all medical specialties, of which 1,256 files (4.5%) were related to anesthesia. In 24 cases, the patient's death was considered to result from the anesthetic procedure: 4 deaths were related to airway management, 2 to ventilation management, 4 to central venous catheter placement, 4 as a result of medication errors, 4 from infusion pump problems, and 4 after complications from regional blockades. Severe hemorrhage caused 1 death, and in 1 case the cause was uncertain. CONCLUSIONS Several of the 24 deaths could potentially have been avoided by more extended use of airway algorithm, thorough preoperative evaluation, training, education, and use of protocols for diagnosis and treatment.