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Foreign Objects Left in the Body After Surgery? How to File a Lawsuit

Almost every surgery involves invasive techniques that require the use of various surgical tools and instruments. While recovering from these procedures, some patients experience mysterious and sometimes debilitating symptoms that signal a rare instance of a medical professional leaving a surgical tool inside a patient due to neglect. These incidents typically require subsequent surgeries to remove the foreign object and may leave patients chronically ill, disabled, or in the worst cases, dead.

Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP is here to help. Our team of medical malpractice lawyers specialize in this unique area of law, providing expertise and guidance to those who have been adversely affected by medical errors and neglect. If you or a loved one suffered or passed away due to injury or side effects caused by a retained surgical item, you deserve justice. Our experienced legal team is dedicated to winning the maximum possible compensation for you so that you can have restitution for your pain, suffering, and medical bills. With over 250 years of combined courtroom experience and a track record of over 100,000 successful cases, our skillful trial lawyers are more than qualified to represent you in your lawsuit.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with the legal experts at Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP, call 1-800-568-7500 or fill out our contact form today.

How common are cases of retained surgical objects?

Although official estimates of foreign objects being left inside patients after surgery average around one out of every 5,500 procedures in the United States, such cases often go under-reported. Regulatory gaps can obfuscate just how frequently such medical errors occur. Laws in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey require hospital staff to self-report critical medical errors to state regulators. However, they encourage – but do not require – these hospitals to report serious errors caused by another hospital. A 2024 independent investigation from The Philadelphia Inquirer found that surgical teams in the Philadelphia area inadvertently left objects inside patients 203 times between 2017 and 2022.

In particular, the Inquirer’s investigation cites the case of a patient named Todd Gordon who went in for an outpatient biopsy procedure. Gordon would spend two years feeling slowly more and more suffocated despite ultimately futile treatments of steroids, asthma inhalers, and immunosuppressive medication. Exploratory surgery and four CT scans failed to identify the cause of his illness. Finally, a Philadelphia surgeon ordered a major operation to investigate and found almost 8 feet of medical gauze causing a life-threatening construction of Gordon’s airway. The gauze was removed in a surgery that lasted about seven hours.

Another case cited in their investigation concerns a woman who underwent an emergency C-section. After the successful procedure, an X-ray clearly showed a surgical sponge that remained lodged in her pelvis. However, communication failures between her medical providers meant that the sponge wasn’t removed until 8 months later. At that point, the surgical object had caused so much damage that two sections of her bowel and her appendix had to be removed altogether.

The Inquirer reported that the Pennsylvania Department of Health did not cite any of these 203 cases. State health inspectors did not investigate any of the hospitals within the scope of their investigation. State regulators did not reprimand the hospitals or order safety fixes as a result of any of these retained surgical object cases. It is clear that when it comes to medical negligence during surgery, patients are uniquely vulnerable. Due to the relative lack of government attention, these cases are almost guaranteed to go under-reported.

How do foreign objects get left inside patients after surgery?

Typically, hospitals practice well-established safety protocols during surgical procedures. Most require nurses to tally each item to be used in a procedure on a surgical tray before, during, and after the procedure. Some hospitals will also employ backup safety measures such as using hand-scanners or X-rays to check for forgotten surgical objects before the patient even leaves the operating table.

However, these safety protocols can fail. Sometimes, in the rush of an emergency procedure, medical professionals may have to forgo the counting protocol and rely on scans after the procedure to identify any retained objects. This leaves further room for human error. Even something like a routine biopsy, however, can end with 6-8 feet of medical gauze left inside a patient due to a medical professional’s neglect. The risk of retained surgical objects also increases with the length of a procedure, during which nurses may change shifts, and the complexity of a procedure, which can sometimes necessitate more than one surgical team.

What are the most commonly retained surgical items named in lawsuits?

Surgeons use many different tools to assist with their medical procedures, most of which are quickly and safely removed as the procedure comes to a close. Some of the most common surgical objects left inside patients’ bodies are:

  • Surgical sponges
  • Drill bit fragments
  • Scalpels
  • Tips of suture needles
  • Scissors
  • Towels
  • Screws
  • Guide wires
  • Catheter fragments

By far, the most common surgical object left behind after surgery appears to be surgical sponges, which are used to soak up fluids and blood during procedures.

What health complications can be caused by foreign objects left in the body after surgery?

When a surgical item gets left in a patient’s body after surgery, they may sometimes not experience any symptoms for years. Other times, symptoms may be immediately apparent, in which case a hospital may conduct a subsequent procedure to remove the object before the patient has even left the hospital. Either way, this negligence can lead to severe physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

Physical Complications

The presence of a foreign object in the body post-surgery can lead to a multitude of physical health issues. These objects can act as a nidus for infection, leading to severe infections that can spread throughout the body. Symptoms of such infections include severe pain, fever, redness, and swelling at the site of the surgery, and sometimes systemic symptoms if the infection enters the bloodstream.

In addition to infections, foreign objects can cause internal injuries and obstructions. For example, a surgical sponge left inside the abdomen can lead to bowel obstruction or perforation, causing acute abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloating. These conditions often require additional surgeries to rectify, thereby increasing the risk of further complications.

Chronic Pain and Discomfort

Patients with foreign objects left inside them often experience chronic pain and discomfort, which can be debilitating. This chronic pain can be localized to the area surrounding the foreign object or more diffuse if the object causes broader internal damage. The pain may persist until the object is removed, and sometimes even longer if nerve damage or other complications have occurred.

Long-Term Health Issues

Long-term health issues may arise depending on the type of foreign object left behind and the duration it remains inside the body. For instance, metal surgical instruments can corrode, potentially leading to metallosis, a dangerous condition caused by the build-up of metallic debris in the body’s soft tissues. Other long-term effects can include organ dysfunction or failure if an organ is damaged by the foreign object.

Mood Disorders and Emotional Suffering

The discovery of a foreign object inside one’s body after surgery can also lead to significant emotional and psychological distress. Patients may experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially if they undergo multiple surgeries to address the complications caused by the foreign object.

How a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help with Your Foreign Object Case

When a foreign object is left in a patient’s body post-surgery, it is often due to medical negligence. A medical malpractice lawyer plays a critical role in helping victims of such negligence find justice and compensation. Their expertise in the nuances of medical malpractice law is crucial in handling these complex cases.

Investigation and Evidence Gathering

A medical malpractice lawyer will start by obtaining all medical records, surgical reports, and other relevant documents. They may also consult with medical experts to assess the extent of negligence and the harm caused. This phase is crucial for building a strong case, as it involves detailed documentation of the medical procedure and any deviations from standard medical practice.

Legal Guidance and Representation

Navigating the legal system can be daunting for someone without legal expertise. A medical malpractice lawyer guides their clients through the legal process, including filing claims, handling paperwork, and adhering to statutory deadlines. They provide representation in court, if necessary, advocating on behalf of their client to ensure that the victim’s voice is heard and respected.

Negotiating Settlements

Many medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. A skilled lawyer will negotiate with the responsible parties or their insurance companies to reach a fair settlement. These negotiations require a deep understanding of both the legal and medical aspects of the case to ensure that the compensation is commensurate with the damages suffered.

Trial Advocacy

If a satisfactory settlement cannot be reached, the case may go to trial. A medical malpractice lawyer will present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and argue the case before a judge or jury. Their expertise in litigation and ability to compellingly present the case is crucial in achieving a favorable outcome.

What kinds of damages can be awarded in a foreign object case?

In cases where foreign objects are left in a patient’s body, the types of damages awarded can be substantial, reflecting the severity of the oversight and its impact on the patient’s life.

Compensatory Damages

These damages are intended to compensate the victim for actual expenses incurred and losses suffered due to the medical error. They include medical expenses for additional surgeries and treatments, lost wages if the victim was unable to work, and compensation for future earnings if there is long-term disability.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages compensate for pain, suffering, and emotional distress caused by the medical error. These are not based on direct financial loss and are therefore subjective. However, they are essential for providing relief to victims for the physical and emotional pain endured.

Punitive Damages

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. These are not meant to compensate the victim but rather to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar negligent behavior in the future. Punitive damages are typically awarded only when the conduct of the medical professional was found to be especially harmful or reckless.

Frequently Asked Questions about Retained Surgical Object Lawsuits

What is a surgical retained foreign object?

A retained surgical foreign object refers to any item that is unintentionally left inside a patient’s body during surgery. Common examples include sponges, needles, parts of surgical instruments, and other small items used during the procedure.

How common are retained surgical objects?

Although exact statistics vary, retained surgical objects are considered rare but serious medical errors. It’s estimated that such incidents occur in about 1 in 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries. Hospitals have protocols to prevent these incidents, such as counting tools before and after surgery, but mistakes can still happen.

What are the legal grounds for filing a lawsuit for a retained surgical object?

The legal grounds for such a lawsuit typically include negligence or medical malpractice. To establish negligence, it must be shown that the healthcare providers failed to meet the standard of care expected in their profession—namely, ensuring all surgical items are accounted for.

What should I do if I suspect there is a retained surgical object inside me?

If you suspect that a surgical object has been left inside your body:

  1. Seek medical attention: Immediate medical evaluation is crucial for your health and well-being.
  2. Document everything: Keep detailed records of all medical appointments, symptoms, and treatments related to your case.
  3. Consult a medical malpractice lawyer: A lawyer specialized in medical malpractice can provide legal advice and help determine the next steps.
Who can be held liable in a retained surgical object case?

Liability can extend to multiple parties involved in the surgical procedure, including:

  • Surgeons: who are directly responsible for the procedure.
  • Surgical staff: including nurses and surgical technicians who may assist with tool counts and equipment handling.
  • Hospitals: as they are responsible for the training and protocols followed by their staff.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit for a retained surgical object?

The timeframe to legally file a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations, varies by state. It generally ranges from one to three years from the date the object was discovered or should have been discovered. Promptly consulting with a lawyer can ensure you don’t miss the deadline to file a claim.

What types of compensation can I seek in a retained surgical object lawsuit?

Compensation can include:

  • Medical expenses: for the surgery to remove the object and any related treatments.
  • Lost wages: if you’ve missed work due to the incident.
  • Pain and suffering: for physical and emotional distress.
  • Punitive damages: in cases of gross negligence.
How can I prove my retained surgical object case?

Proving your case generally involves demonstrating:

  1. Duty of Care: The medical staff had a duty to perform your surgery safely.
  2. Breach of Duty: This duty was breached by leaving an object inside you.
  3. Causation: This breach directly caused your injuries.
  4. Damages: You suffered damages as a result of the injury.

Evidence can include medical records, expert testimony, and the surgical object itself, if recovered.

What challenges might I face in a retained surgical object lawsuit?

Challenges can include:

  • Disputing liability: Defendants may claim that the standard of care was met and that the incident was unforeseeable.
  • Complex medical evidence: These cases often involve detailed medical terminology and procedures that can be difficult for laypersons to understand.
  • Statute of limitations issues: Sometimes the object isn’t discovered until after the statute of limitations has expired.
How long does a typical lawsuit take?

The duration of a lawsuit can vary widely depending on the complexity of the case, the amount of evidence, and the legal strategies employed. Some cases may settle quickly out of court, while others could take years to go through the litigation process.

Can I still sue if the surgery occurred several years ago but I only just discovered the object?

Yes, many states have a “discovery rule” that allows you to file a lawsuit within a certain period after discovering the harm, even if the actual surgery occurred years earlier. A knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer can provide guidance based on the specific laws in your state.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation

To help maximize your chances of recovering damages for the suffering you have experienced due to injuries, disabilities, illnesses, or loss caused by a retained surgical object, it’s critical to have an expert legal team guiding your case. Our medical malpractice lawyers manage lawsuits in all 50 states. We offer free consultations with our attorneys so that we can help you better understand your legal options and the strength of your case. For more information, call Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP at 1-800-568-7500 or fill out our contact form today.

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