Medical Malpractice:

Retained Foreign Objects

If a surgeon or surgical nurse fails to remove a surgical instrument or object at the end of a procedure, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. A retained foreign object can cause serious complications, including life-threatening infections. Damage to tissues, nerves, blood vessels and organs may also occur. Additional surgery, hospitalization, medical expenses, and a lengthy recuperation period are additional consequences that patients must deal with.

Surgical instruments that may be left in the patient's body after a surgery include:

  • Surgical sponges
  • Needles
  • Knife blades
  • Safety pins
  • Clips
  • Electrosurgical adapters
  • Cotton and gauze

Hospitals should have a system of checks in place in order to prevent the retaining of foreign objects. Every sponge and instrument required for the procedure should be counted prior to opening the incision, and all supplies should be accounted for prior to closing the wound. Any member of the surgical team who has practiced medical malpractice negligence, including doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists, may be found liable if it is discovered that a foreign object was left inside a patient after surgery.

The Discovery Rule and Medical Malpractice

Some patients may experience symptoms related to the retained foreign object soon after the surgery, particularly if the object irritates adjacent tissues or migrates within the body cavity. However, in other cases, patients may not become aware of any issues for several weeks or months after the surgery. An x-ray, MRI or other test may be required to locate the object. For this reason, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is extended for cases involving a retained foreign object in many states. This is known as the "discovery rule."  In essence, the statute of limitations begins from the time you knew or reasonably should have known that there was an issue. If you are the victim of a retained foreign body after a surgery, a medical malpractice attorney can advise you about the statute of limitations in your state and your right to claim compensation.