Who is responsible when a needle or sponge is left in a patient following surgery?

By Josh Silverman on May 07, 2014

One of the most inexplicable and yet shockingly common form of medical malpractice is when sponges and needles are left inside of a patient.  I have represented multiple patients who have suffered tremendously from sponges being left in the body.  Examples include two women who had sponges left during a c-section, a woman who had a sponge left in her following a hysterectomy, and a gentleman who had a forgotten sponge left in him during gallbladder surgery.  

These errors are sometimes called "never-events" simply because they should never happen.  Responsibility is often shared between the nursing staff and the surgeon.  The surgeon may be the captain of the ship, but the surgeon typically relies on the nursing staff to keep an accurate count of all sponges placed in the body during surgery and an accurate count of all sponges removed from the patient before the surgery is completed.  The doctor should confirm with the nursing staff that the count is accurate meaning all sponges placed in the body were accounted for before closing the surgical incision.  

The consequences of failing to remove all foreign bodies is always serious.  In the best case, the patient must go back to surgery to have the object removed.  In many cases the error isn't realized until the patient develops a life threatening infection.  If proper procedures were always followed these "never-events" would never happen.  

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