Can You Sue for Foreign Objects Left Behind During Surgery?

Clayton T. Hasbrook

Written by Clayton T. Hasbrook. Last modified on February 20, 2024

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Hasbrook & Hasbrook
400 N Walker Ave #130, Oklahoma City, OK

object left inside of body during surgeryIt may seem difficult to believe a surgeon could forget medical objects inside a patient’s body, especially with nurses, assistants, and anesthesiologists looking on.  Yet, while this sort of scenario may seem unlikely, it’s a mistake that occurs more frequently than anyone would like to think.

According to a study of surgical procedures performed from 2003 to 2006, objects are accidentally left inside patients in one out of every 5,500 surgeries.  Since about 51.4 million surgeries are performed annually in the United States, roughly 9,345 surgeries per year will end with a sponge or instrument being left inside the patient’s body.

Unintended Retention of Foreign Objects (URFO)

Complications and Injuries Caused by Retained Sponges and Surgical Instruments

The medical implications of URFO, also known as RSI (retained sponges and instruments), are severe. These complications can range from minor discomfort to life-threatening conditions.

Types of damage caused by retained objects

Sharp objects, such as needles or scalpels, can cause significant damage by lacerating or puncturing tissues, veins, arteries, and vital organs. This can lead to heavy internal bleeding and potentially fatal outcomes.

Specific risks associated with sharp objectsdiagnosing a foreign object in the body

For instance, if a needle were to puncture the small intestine, it could lead to gastrointestinal perforation, a condition requiring emergency surgery due to the risk of peritonitis, a dangerous infection.

Dangers posed by soft objects like sponges and gauze

Conversely, softer items like sponges and gauze, which are the most commonly retained, can cause infections and blockages due to bacterial accumulation. For example, a retained sponge could lead to a severe infection if not promptly identified and removed.

Prevalence of medical sponges being left inside patients

Medical sponges are forgotten in patients’ bodies more often than any other type of surgical item, accounting for nearly 70% of retained objects by some estimates.

Warning Signs You May Be a Victim of URFO (Unintended Retention of Foreign Objects)

URFO can rapidly become a life-threatening medical emergency.  While some pain and discomfort is normal after undergoing surgery, you should seek medical treatment immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms, which are warning signs you may be suffering from post-surgical complications:

  • Develop a high fever (101 degrees or higher).
  • Streaks or discoloration around the incision area.
  • The incision area oozes pus, blood, or other fluids.
  • The incision area feels warm, hard, or swollen to the touch.
  • Your stitches start pulling apart, or the incision edges open.
  • You have persistent constipation or difficulty urinating, which could indicate a blockage.
  • Your pain and/or fatigue worsens with time or suddenly worsens significantly.
  • Unable to keep food or liquids down, even with a normal appetite.
  • Changes to the color or consistency of your stool, especially if it has a tar-like appearance, could indicate internal bleeding.
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood.
  • You wheeze or have difficulty breathing, even if you aren’t doing anything physically taxing.
  • You notice numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.
  • There are foul odors emanating from the site of the incision.

What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Malpractice Case in OK?second surgery needed to remove the foreign object leftover from the initial surgery

Like all professionals in the medical field, surgeons and surgical assistants in Oklahoma are held to extremely rigorous standards for providing patient care.  When a surgeon makes a preventable mistake and a patient is injured or killed, the surgeon may be liable for compensating the victim or, if the victim was killed, his or her surviving spouse and family members.  When a person is killed by another person’s negligence (such as in an auto accident), which is the failure to take normal and reasonable precautions against the foreseeable risk of death or injury, it is described as wrongful death.

Oklahoma does not limit how much compensation may be awarded to the victim’s survivors in a wrongful death action, nor are there any limits on economic damages, which compensate injury victims for expenses like medical bills and lost income.

Hasbrook & Hasbrook is Ready to Evaluate Your Case

If you or one of your loved ones experienced severe complications after a surgery went wrong, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses.  Call the law offices of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 605-2426 right away to set up a free consultation.  We will keep your information confidential.

Foreign Object Left During Surgery FAQs

What is the most common type of foreign object left behind during surgery?

A surgical sponge is the most common type of foreign object left behind during surgery. Due to their frequent use and sometimes small size, these items are at a higher risk of being overlooked.

What are the symptoms of URFO?

The symptoms of URFO can include fever, pain, swelling, infection, and organ damage. It’s crucial for patients to monitor their recovery closely and report any unusual symptoms to their healthcare provider immediately.

What are the legal options for victims of URFO in Oklahoma?

Victims of URFO in Oklahoma can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon and/or hospital responsible for their injuries. This legal action can seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

What is the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oklahoma?

The statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oklahoma is two years from the date of the injury or the date the victim should have reasonably known of the injury. It’s important for victims to seek legal counsel as soon as possible to ensure their rights are protected.

Can malpractice insurance cover URFO incidents, and how does this affect hospitals and surgical centers?

URFO incidents can be covered by malpractice insurance, which most hospitals and surgical centers maintain to protect against financial losses resulting from medical malpractice claims. When a URFO incident occurs, the affected patient may file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages. The malpractice insurance can cover settlements or judgments awarded to the patient and legal defense costs. However, repeated incidents or claims can lead to increased insurance premiums for the hospital or surgical center, incentivizing them to implement stringent preventive measures to reduce the risk of URFO. Additionally, the reputation of the facility can be affected, which could impact patient trust and, ultimately, the facility’s financial health.


This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by Founding Partner, Clayton T. Hasbrook who has years of legal experience as a personal injury lawyer. Our last modified date shows when this page was last reviewed.