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Foreign Objects: Who’s Responsible?

xray of a shoulder injury

When filing a medical malpractice claim, it’s important to pay attention to the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations sets timelines surrounding when a patient is able to file for a claim, what the deadlines are and if there are any exceptions to the two. A major exception to many statute of limitations are surrounding the presence of foreign objects.

A foreign object is any object that was improperly placed or left inside of a patient’s body. This can be a surgeon’s sponge, a pair of scissors, surgical needles, anything. It should go without saying that this may pose major health risks for patients. Oftentimes, foreign objects are not discovered right away due to patients feeling as if a certain amount of discomfort and pain are typical or expected after undergoing surgery. Sadly, they may even grow to find themselves living a new level of comfort with the object left inside of them, deeming it their new normal.

Upon first learning of foreign objects being left inside of people, it may seem shocking. How in the world does that happen? Well, that is usually the first question a patient or attorney asks when they do find out or suspect a foreign object was unaccounted for. There are a few ways and occurrences in which this may happen.

When a surgeon is performing on a patient, they usually have a set of nurses or assistants in the room with them. Whether it be the nurses or assistants or the doctor him or herself, someone is to be in charge of the tool count. A tool count is in place to ensure that all of the tools that were present at the start of surgery, are also to be present at the completion of the surgery. An object being left in a patient can happen due to a miscount, for instance. When a miscount occurs, the next question on the table is whose fault it is. It’s not always obvious, either. A patient may automatically assume the doctor performing the surgery was at fault, however, that is not always the case.

One example to help better understand the variety of parties whose fault it can be is a case about a woman in Pennsylvania who underwent vaginal prolapse surgery. The years following her surgery, she continuously complained of pain and abnormal bowel functions. After many consultations, she finally underwent an imaging study which confirmed that there was a needle left inside of her. Her first assumption was that both the hospital and gynecologist were at fault. After more thorough investigation, it was later determined that it was the sole fault of the nurses for not having counted the needles properly, and thus the surgeon was not at fault. Ultimately, the hospital was at fault, and sued, for negligence.

Whenever you or a family member undergo any treatment or surgery, ask what the expected recovery or pain levels will be. While, of course, it will almost always differ person to person, it’s not a bad idea to have a gauge on what is the norm for a particular procedure. If anything out of the ordinary or outstanding occurs, it’s better to err on the side of caution than to find out a needle was misplaced inside of you three years later.

For any advice on medical malpractice claims, seek an attorney immediately. While foreign objects are most often the exception to a state’s statute of limitations, there are some loopholes. For the best representation and guidance, contact Buckingham & Vega Law. We operate our business based on integrity and merit. Call today for a free consultation.

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