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Foreign Objects Left in Patients during Surgery — What are Your Rights?

New Jersey surgeons rely on a variety of tools while working on patients. Most of these tools should be removed from the patient’s body by the time surgery has ended. When foreign objects are left behind, there can be major health problems and legal ramifications.

While stitches, stents and implants are technically foreign objects, they are supposed to be left inside a patient. In medical malpractice lawsuits, a “foreign object” is an object that isn’t supposed to be left inside a patient. Doctors call these items “retained surgical items (RSI)” or “retained surgical instruments.”

Operating rooms are supposed to use procedures to prevent these problems. Surgical counts should be used before a patient leaves the operating room to determine what items were used and whether anything is missing. When an operating team fails to conduct these counts, or when they fail to discover that an item is missing, they may be held liable under New Jersey’s medical malpractice laws.

The most commonly retained items are cotton gauze surgical sponges, which come in a variety of sizes. When a sponge or towel is retained, it can form a mass or a tumor called gossypiboma, which can be painful and create medical complications.

Other foreign objects that can cause trouble and should not be left inside patients include:

  • Scalpels
  • Blades
  • Scissors
  • Gloves
  • Clamps
  • Tweezers
  • Pins

When these tools or objects are retained, they have the potential to cause a variety of problems. Tools can cut or damage bodily organs or cause bleeding. In addition to full tools or objects, fragments or pieces of objects can break off inside a patient. These device fragments can be much harder to detect because of their size and because it may not be obvious that anything is missing after surgery.

Nobody knows for sure how often items are left behind, but it may be as often as once in every 100 surgeries. These problems can only occur due to a mistake. There is no reason other than carelessness that a patient can leave the operating room with a sponge or scalpel still inside them. These types of errors are known as “never events” because they should never happen when medical professionals treat patients with the standard of care that is required of them.

Seigel Law in Ridgewood represents medical malpractice victims, including those who have had a foreign object left inside them during surgery. You only have a limited time to bring your claim, so it is important that you contact us right away. Schedule a free consultation with a New Jersey medical malpractice attorney by calling 201.444.4000 or contacting us online.

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