Can You Sue for Foreign Objects Left Behind During Surgery?
Fact checked by Clayton Hasbrook J.D. | Updated on April 10, 2020
It may seem difficult to believe that a surgeon could forget medical objects inside of 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 of patients in one out of every 5,500 surgeries. Since about 51.4 million surgeries are performed annually in the United States, this means as many as roughly 9,345 surgeries per year will end with a sponge or instrument being left inside the patient’s body.
If your surgeon forgot to remove a sponge or medical tool from your body after operating on you, you may be a victim of medical malpractice, and could be entitled to compensation. To learn more about the legal options that may be available to you in a free and confidential legal consultation, call us at (405) 698-3040. We have over 75 years of combined experience handling claims throughout the Oklahoma City area, including Moore, Mustang, Norman, Edmond, Guthrie, and Shawnee.
Complications and Injuries Caused by Retained Sponges and Surgical Instruments
The medical term for a surgeon leaving a foreign object inside of a patient’s body is URFO (unintended retention or foreign objects) or RSI (retained sponges and instruments). Any object left inside of a patient’s body is capable of causing severe physical damage.
Sharp, pointed objects like needles or scalpels can lacerate or puncture tissues, veins, arteries, and vital organs, causing heavy internal bleeding and other life-threatening complications. If the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine is pierced, which is called gastrointestinal perforation or perforated bowel, the contents of the punctured organ can leak out into the abdominal cavity, leading to a dangerous infection called peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal wall) which generally requires emergency surgery.
While bowel perforation is a major risk for the victims of URFO or RSI, an object doesn’t necessarily have to be hard or sharp to cause serious and potentially fatal damage. Soft items like sponges and strips of gauze accumulate bacteria over time, festering inside of the patient’s body and causing infections. These types of objects can also compact and become lodged in place, causing blockages. Medical sponges are forgotten in patient’s 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:
- You develop a high fever (101 degrees or higher).
- You notice 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 to pull apart, or the edges of the incision begin to open.
- You have persistent constipation or difficulty urinating, which could indicate a blockage.
- Your pain and/or fatigue becomes worse with time, or suddenly gets significantly worse.
- You’re unable to keep food or liquids down, even if you have a normal appetite.
- You notice changes to the color or consistency of your stool, especially if it has a tar-like appearance, which could indicate internal bleeding.
- You vomit or cough 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?
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 as a result, the surgeon may be liable for compensating the injury 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, 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. Non-economic damages, which are meant to compensate non-financial harms like pain and suffering, are generally capped at $350,000. However, this limit may be raised if the defendant was reckless, engaged in extreme negligence, acted fraudulently, or acted with intentional malice.
Punitive damages, which are sometimes ordered in cases where the defendant commits an egregious wrong, are generally limited to $100,000 for Oklahoma medical malpractice victims. However, this cap may be raised to $500,000 or no cap at all, depending on the circumstances which caused the injury.
Hasbrook & Hasbrook is Ready to Evaluate Your Case
If you or one of your loved ones experienced serious complications after a surgery went wrong, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses. Call the law offices of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040 right away to set up a free consultation. We will keep your information confidential.