Dawn Collins, JD
AN OHIO WOMAN had a cesarean delivery in 2007. After the delivery, she complained of severe back pain and was unable to pick up her baby. She was seen and evaluated by her physician during the postpartum period for low back pain and pain associated with lifting and carrying her infant and was referred for physical therapy.
Three months later, she was diagnosed with a foreign body in her abdomen and was admitted for a laparotomy for removal of a surgical sponge left at the time of the cesarean delivery. The physician performing the operation described dense adhesions between the sponge and the surrounding small bowel loops in his operative note. A $275,000 settlement was reached in presuit mediation.
Retained sponges or other surgical instruments after an operation are, of course, below the standard of care and so technically constitute negligence. The issues then become the timely recognition of the problem and its appropriate management.
Usually, the damages claimed represent the expenses related to the second procedure to remove the item and the patient's pain and suffering caused by the item from the time of the first operation to the time the presence of the item is diagnosed and the item is removed.
Although the case report in this instance does not so state, it is assumed that the instrument and sponge count was reported as correct at the time of the operation, which often means that the hospital is responsible for payment of damages.
If possible, as in this instance, it is a good idea to resolve these cases before a lawsuit is actually filed, if the parties can agree to a reasonable amount for the damages to be paid to the patient.