Skip to content

When Equipment Left in the Body Leads to Lawsuits: A Legal Guide

  • 4 min read

When Equipment Left in the Body Leads to Lawsuits: A Legal Guide

Understanding the Seriousness of Retained Surgical Items

One of the more alarming types of medical malpractice involves surgical equipment or materials being inadvertently left in a patient’s body after an operation. While not common, these incidents, known as Retained Surgical Foreign Objects (RSFOs), can have serious implications for patients and often lead to legal action.

Understanding RSFOs

RSFOs typically include items like sponges, needles, instruments, or fragments of medical devices. These objects can cause infections, obstructions, pain, and sometimes require additional surgeries to remove. The effects can be physically, emotionally, and financially taxing on patients.

Various studies and reports shed light on the prevalence and impact of Retained Surgical Items (RSIs). A Mayo Clinic study revealed a concerning statistic: one in every 5,500 operations results in an RSI, with surgical sponges being the most common item left inside patients, accounting for about two-thirds of these cases. This issue has been recognized by the Joint Commission, a healthcare safety watchdog, which recorded 772 instances of foreign objects left in patients between 2005 and 2012.

The consequences of RSIs are significant and multifaceted. Approximately 95% of patients with an RSI require extended hospitalization to address the issue. The risk is notably higher in emergency surgeries, which are nine times more likely to result in an RSI compared to non-emergency procedures. RSIs are commonly found in various medical settings including operating rooms, ambulatory surgery centers, labor and delivery rooms, and laboratories where invasive procedures are performed.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has reported that fatal injuries occur in about 2% of RSI cases, highlighting the severity of such incidents. Financially, the impact is also substantial. USA Today noted that the presence of an RSI can lead to over $60,000 in additional hospitalization costs, and malpractice expenses ranging from $100,000 to $200,000.

In response to this issue, regulatory measures are being taken. For instance, California, along with other states, has implemented fines for hospitals with RSI incidents. From 2010 to 2013, California alone fined hospitals a total of $1.8 million for 30 cases involving retained sponges, indicating a concerted effort to reduce the occurrence of RSIs and enhance patient safety.

Legal Grounds for RSI Lawsuits

Patients affected by RSIs may have grounds for a lawsuit if:

  1. Negligence is Proven: Leaving an object in a patient’s body often constitutes a breach of the standard of care.
  2. Causation and Damage: The patient must prove that the RSI directly caused harm and resulted in specific damages, including additional medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Navigating the Legal Process

If you suspect an RSI:

  1. Seek Immediate Medical Attention: If you experience symptoms like pain, infection, or other unexplained issues post-surgery, consult a healthcare professional immediately.
  2. Gather Medical Documentation: Collect all records related to your surgeries and treatments.
  3. Consult a Legal Professional: An attorney specializing in medical malpractice can help determine if you have a viable case.

The Role of Hospitals and Surgical Teams

Hospitals and surgical teams can reduce the risk of RSIs by:

  • Implementing strict surgical item tracking protocols.
  • Using technology such as barcoding and radio-frequency identification (RFID) for sponge tracking.
  • Conducting thorough counts and re-counts of surgical items before and after procedures.

Legal Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you are considering legal action due to a retained surgical item, consult with a qualified legal professional.

The issue of retained surgical items is a significant one, with serious health and legal implications. Understanding the statistics and potential risks can help patients and medical professionals take proactive steps to prevent these occurrences and ensure safe surgical practices.