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My Surgeon Left a Surgical Instrument Inside Me: Do I Have a Case?

Surgical scissors. Surgical clamps. Gauze pads. A sponge. A needle. Left behind in your body after surgery. Without a doubt, one of the more frequent, and often times puzzling, types of medical malpractice cases occurs when a surgeon or his/her surgical team finishes a procedure and fails to remove all of the surgical instruments or equipment used on the patient during surgery. The medical watchdog group known as the Joint Commission recently was quoted as stating that the “leaving of a foreign object after surgery is a well-known problem, but one that can be prevented.” The Joint Commission, like most malpractice attorneys, recognize that this all-too common problem is one that leave severe damage to patients or even cause death. Between 2006 and 2013, the Joint Commission was made aware of over 770 reports of retained foreign objects in patients that resulted in 16 deaths. The Joint Commission believes, however, that this 770 cases only represented a fraction of the true number of cases involving retained foreign objects, with a more realistic number being closer to 1,500-2,000 incidents per YEAR. In 95% of these cases, the patients were required to stay additional days in the hospital and undergo additional surgical procedures to remove these foreign objects. The retention of these foreign objects can obviously cause patients severe pain, result in significant infections and organ damage.

According to the Joint Commission’s review of these cases, certain patients or procedures were more prone to having unaccounted surgical instruments following surgery. These included rushed or emergent procedures, those surgeries involving more than one surgical team, and surgeries involving obese individuals. According to the Joint Commission, leaving objects inside patients can cost health care providers or institutions between $100,000 to $200,000, on average, per incident.

At STSW, our experienced team of medical malpractice experts have handled numerous retained foreign object cases over the years. Our attorneys recognize that the cases can necessarily involve significant pain, emotional distress, the need for additional painful surgeries, extended hospitalizations, increased medical bills and lost wages/earnings. Our attorneys also recognize that one of the best ways to pursue these cases is to show that the surgeon or surgical team violated their own hospital’s polices. For example, many hospitals have in place a specific protocol for how surgeons and their teams must account for each and every piece of surgical equipment prior to the surgery and after the surgery. This is often times referred to as “the count.” Obviously, if “the count” after the procedure has fewer instruments than the team began the surgery with, some instrumentality is unaccounted for and the surgeon must explore the patient for the same prior to closing her/him up. These “counts” should always be recorded in the patient’s medical records for documentation purposes.

If you or a loved one were injured by a doctor’s negligent failure to remove all foreign objects prior to completing a surgery, call one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation at (410) 385-2225.

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