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Jim Lewis
Jim Lewis
Attorney • (800) 752-0042

Retained surgical sponges: a known medical error

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Editor Note: My partner, Rick Shapiro, posted a May 2009 update article on surgical sponges/towels and a new technology that embeds a bar code and wand system that tracks sponges to prevent serious malpractice.

In the field of medical malpractice litigation almost all issues are hard fought by the doctors and their insurance companies. An area where medical malpractice is often so obvious as to be inescapable is in leaving a surgical sponge or other foreign object inside a patient after an operation.

As a personal injury attorney from Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA) focusing my practice on medical and surgical mistakes, I have seen this happen numerous times. Typically, it is the hospital staff that has made an error in the count of the number of surgical sponges used. However, the surgeon also has some obligation as the head of the operating team to make sure that the count of surgical instruments is made correctly before closing up the patient. When I file a lawsuit for a client who has had a surgical sponge left in her, I will normally file suit against both the hospital and the surgeon. Typically, the two sets of attorneys and insurance companies will cross finger point and blame each other for the error. This usually works out to the advantage of the injured person as they can sit back and let the two potentially negligent parties blame the other.

The value of a retained sponge case in Virginia varies depending upon the severity of the harm caused to the patient. Normally the seriousness of the injury is determined by how long the sponge or other object remains undetected. At times the sponge if left in the patient’s body will form infected abscesses or other problems in the internal organs of the patient. Often a corrective surgery is required to try to treat the medical problems caused by the object which was left in the patient. I have seen situations where more than one surgery has been required as the corrective surgery leads to yet more serious complications, like the perforation of the intestine. For some examples of real cases that my law firm and I have worked on please see our website at www.hsinjurylaw.com. Every medical malpractice case however is unique with its own set of medical issues and damages to the Plaintiff. Other factors which go into the evaluation of a surgical error case are what lost wages the patient was caused as a result of the mistake and the extent of any permanent disability or medical conditions.

One of the newer laws in Virginia (VA) medical malpractice cases allows the doctor and hospital to apologize to the patient for the harm caused without having that apology used against them to prove a violation of the standard of care at trial. This rule is a good compromise that both Plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers handling medical malpractice cases and the insurance defense lawyers for the doctors and hospitals could agree on. Often the surgical sponge error case is one that everyone feels bad about. This error can occur even with the very best surgeon and a top hospital involved. The harm to the patient is still worthy of compensation as he has been hurt through the negligence of the health care providers.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to our section on Medical Malpractice.