Retained Surgical Objects: A Common Form of Medical Injury

A shocking, but common surgical error is to leave foreign objects like sponges, gauze, needles, and even surgical instruments and towels inside the patient.  While commonly called "retained foreign objects," we are really talking about "forgotten" or inexcusably "abandoned" foreign objects.  Statistically, about 1500 patients are injured every year due to retained objects from surgery. 

Foreign objects left in the body can lead to life threatening infections, bowel perforations, organ damage, severe pain, and death. Even in the best case, the patient is subjected to the physical and emotional tolls of further surgery, the risks of anesthesia, hospitalizations, unsightly scars, and medical expenses.

These cases require a thorough understanding of operating room procedures and the various roles of the surgeons and surgical nurses. Joshua Silverman has successfully handled many cases involving retained foreign objects during surgery. Examples include sponges forgotten during surgery to remove a gall bladder, a hysterectomy, and c-sections.  Similarly, injuries arises when dentists leave behind drill bits and other dental hardware.

These cases are serious because the patient almost always must go through further invasive surgery, lengthy recuperation and incur significant medical expenses.

Minimal operating room procedures: There should always be a count prior to surgery of all sponges, needles, and other surgical instruments that will be placed inside the patient’s body during surgery. The initial count serves as a baseline for subsequent counts. The scrub and/or circulating nurse should audibly count each item before surgery, whenever more sponges or instruments are added to the surgical field, before closing any body cavity, and before completion of the surgical procedure. The nursing staff should document each count.

Typically, the operating room nurses are responsible for maintaining an accurate count of the sponges and instruments. However, the surgeon should inquire of the nurses whether the counts are correct. If they are not correct, the surgical wound should not be closed until a correct count is verified. If necessary an intraoperative x-ray can be taken to locate the unaccounted foreign bodies left inside the patient.

Most medical malpractice cases require expert testimony.  However, because it is rarely excusable to leave a foreign object inside of a patient, the Virginia Supreme Court has held that expert testimony is not necessarily required. 

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a retained foreign object, you are invited to contact us by email or call us at (804) 325-4992 to discuss your legal rights.

Joshua Silverman represents victims of medical malpractice, defective products and defective medical devices, nursing home abuse, automobile accidents, and other serious injuries throughout Virginia.

Web Resources for Retained Objects From Surgery:

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Josh Silverman


Silverman Law Firm LC

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Richmond, VA 23221

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