While complications can be an unavoidable risk of surgery, foreign instruments left inside patients lead to inexcusable injuries. In addition to recovering from the underlying operation, a victim must endure the pain and side effects of the retained object, which can go undetected for years. New procedures are eventually required to undo the damage, often causing further complications and worsening medical conditions. These surgical errors can give rise to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Unfortunately, the frequency of surgical instruments left in patients is high. Of the 28 million operations performed nationwide annually, an estimated one in 1,000 results in a retained surgical object. Surgical sponges are most commonly left behind, and the length of time to discover the injury can extend decades. Patients seek treatment from various physicians for pain they don’t know is associated with the retained object and undergo additional procedures to identify and remove it.

The Causes and Consequences of Retained Surgical Objects

Every operation is different, but surgical procedures are often complicated. Many require the surgical team to use hundreds of different tools and instruments. In procedures that cause a lot of bleeding, it can be difficult to differentiate between a sponge and human tissue. Certain high-risk situations—including emergency surgeries and those requiring numerous procedures or medical teams—can make it much harder to account for a device. Patients with high body mass indexes are also at greater risk of retained equipment post-surgery.

Still, medical professionals are expected to keep laser-focused attention on each object used to ensure nothing is left behind. When surgical objects are retained, negligence is generally the underlying cause. From fatigue to poorly organized surgical teams, failure to exert adequate vigilance over medical equipment significantly deviates from the standard of care. 

Depending on the instrument, victims of retained surgical objects can suffer greatly. Needles and other sharp instruments can cut through tissue causing internal bleeding and other complications. These more dangerous items’ immediate and catastrophic effects mean they tend to be discovered quickly. While lower-risk objects like sponges may not cause obvious damage, detection difficulties can prolong their effects. 

Suing for Malpractice

Discovering that an object has been retained inside the body after surgery is a patient’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, the horrifying moment of recognition is often the start of a long road to healing. Victims of retained surgical objects suffer considerable damages, including:

  • Extreme physical pain and suffering.
  • New and worsening medical conditions.
  • The inconvenience and hardship of additional surgical procedures.
  • Loss of ability to work.
  • Medical, travel, and home care expenses.
  • Loss of companionship to spouse and other family members.
  • Severe emotional and psychological distress.

Proving that a physician breached the standard of care in a retained surgical object case is generally straightforward. Establishing causality can be more difficult. For example, after a surgical sponge is retained in the patient’s abdomen, bloating and pain may be attributed to an underlying abdominal issue. While the defendant surgeon may concede that the patient experienced some degree of harm, the defense will typically argue that much of the patient’s alleged damages were outside the surgeon’s influence.

For this reason, choosing the right medical experts to testify is critical to a plaintiff’s success. Expert witnesses testimony is needed to not only establish the “standard of care”—the treatment the patient should have been given—required the defendant surgeon to remove the retained object, but also to provide the causal relationship between the error and the patient’s injuries. The right medical expert will make a clear case for why the patient’s symptoms are a direct result of the alleged malpractice. Our firm has helped countless clients injured by retained surgical objects. We understand how daunting it can be to embark on this recovery process, but you don’t have to endure it alone. If you have suffered due to surgical negligence, call us today for a free consultation.