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Foreign Objects

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FOREIGN OBJECTS LEFT IN THE PATIENT’S BODY AFTER SURGERY

Generally speaking, if a surgeon or surgical nurse fails to remove a surgical instrument or object at the end of a procedure, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. In the State of Georgia, what may constitute a “foreign object” is not specifically defined, but Georgia statutes specifically exclude “chemical compounds and certain fixation and prosthetic devices” from what may be considered as a “foreign object.” A retained foreign object can cause serious complications, including life-threatening infections. Damage to tissues, nerves, blood vessels and organs may also occur. Additional surgery, hospitalization, medical expenses, and a lengthy recuperation period are additional consequences that patients must deal with. Surgical instruments that may be left in the patient’s body after a surgery include:

  • Surgical sponges;
  • Needles;
  • Knife blades;
  • Safety pins;
  • Clips;
  • Electrosurgical adapters; and,
  • Cotton and gauze.

Naturally, hospitals should have a system of checks in place in order to prevent the retaining of foreign objects. Every sponge and instrument required for the procedure should be counted prior to opening the incision, and all supplies should be accounted for prior to closing the wound. Any member of the surgical team who has committed malpractice, including doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists, may be found liable if it is discovered that a foreign object was left inside a patient after surgery.

Some patients may experience symptoms related to the retained foreign object soon after the surgery, particularly if the object irritates adjacent tissues or migrates within the body cavity. However, in other cases, patients may not become aware of any issues for several weeks or months after the surgery. An x-ray, MRI or other test may be required to locate the object. For this reason, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is extended for cases involving a retained foreign object in many states. This is known as the “discovery rule.” In essence, the statute of limitations begins from the time you knew or reasonably should have known that there was an issue.

In the State of Georgia, the two-year “medical malpractice” statute of limitations does not apply in cases where a physician leaves a foreign object in the patient’s body. In such cases, a victim of malpractice must bring the action “within one year of the discovery of the negligent act or omission.”

WE CAN HELP

Because medical malpractice cases follow a complex body of rules and often involve complicated medical questions, it is often essential to get advice or representation from a medical malpractice attorney, who will then call on expert witnesses to bolster your case. Again, the attorneys at Jackel & Phillips are experienced and trained (with proven results) to handle medical malpractice cases and will be happy to provide a free consultation to help guide you through the complicated process of assessing your potential malpractice case.