Medical Malpractice

Can You Sue for Foreign Objects Left in the Body?

July 13, 2023

Table Of Contents


Surgery plays an important role in saving the lives of many people. However, surgeons make errors, including leaving foreign objects inside people. But when this occurs, can you sue for a foreign object left in body? The answer is yes.

It is considered medical malpractice to leave a foreign object inside a person after a surgical procedure. If this happens to you, you may experience certain symptoms and develop an injury or a debilitating condition.

Fortunately, you can seek compensation for the losses you suffer when this occurs. A surgical errors attorney can help you recover valuable compensation to help you recuperate and provide for the future.

What Is a Retained Foreign Object?

Surgeons and their teams use all manner of tools and implements during surgery. Many of these objects temporarily find themselves inside patients' bodies, but they should never remain there after the procedure. If they do and the patient is sewn up with the objects still inside, the patient has retained a foreign object.

However, some items should remain in patients after an operation, such as pacemakers and other regulating-type medical devices. These help patients deal with health problems by assisting the body with specific functions. But objects that are mistakenly left inside a patient can lead to compromised bodily functions, injury, and death.

Different Types of Foreign Objects Left Inside the Body

Some of the various surgical tools, instruments, and implements that might end up left inside a patient include:

  • Cotton Swabs: These are used to clean incisions during and after surgery. When left inside the body, they can lead to infections and interfere with how the body operates normally.
  • Gauze Pads: Gauze pads are also used to clean incision sites during and after surgery. They are also helpful in soaking up blood and other bodily fluids. Left inside the body, gauze pads can also lead to infections and disturbances of body processes.
  • Sponges: Because they are so absorbent, sponges make effective surgical implements. If left inside the body, however, infections may occur.
  • Clamps: Clamps are perhaps one of the most useful surgical tools. They can be used to block blood flow to prevent internal bleeding and can be used to reposition tissue for visibility purposes.
  • Needles: Needles are a common surgical implement. Due to their pointed tips, they are incredibly dangerous if left inside a patient's body.
  • Scissors: Surgical scissors are very effective in the hands of a skilled surgeon. However, they are often the most dangerous tool a surgeon can leave inside a patient's body.
  • Catheters: Thin catheter tubing helps drain bodily fluids or add more to a patient. When left inside a patient's body, they can cause significant interference with a patient's natural bodily functions.

Surgeons might also leave retractors, towels, and wires inside a patient.

can you sue for foreign object left in body

Symptoms of a Foreign Object Retained After Surgery

It is normal for a patient to experience pain and discomfort after surgery. However, if a foreign object has been retained in your body after surgery, the sensations and symptoms you feel will typically be different and more intense than normal.

Signs and symptoms of a foreign object left in your body include:

  • Development of a high fever over 100 degrees
  • Stripes, streaks, or discoloration at the surgery site
  • Pus, blood, or other bodily fluids oozing from the incision
  • An incision that feels warm, raised, hard or swollen
  • Your stitches start to come undone or pull apart
  • Difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Inability to keep foods or liquids down
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Numbness or tingling of the hands or feet
  • Foul odors coming from the incision site
  • Changes in color and consistency of your stools, with tar-like stools indicating internal bleeding

Upon noticing any of these symptoms, you should contact a doctor immediately for a medical evaluation.

Steps to Take if You've Experienced the Unintended Retention of a Foreign Object

If you realize that you have or are likely to have an unintended foreign object inside your body, you should take the following steps to prevent further problems from developing and to preserve your compensation claim.

1. Obtain Immediate Medical Care

Obtain medical care as soon as possible once you have learned that a foreign object is inside you. However, you should not go to the healthcare provider who left the object inside you. They may attempt to downplay or deny the fact that they left a foreign object inside of your body.

Instead, visit another facility for treatment, which may include imaging tests and a treatment plan. The plan may require surgery to remove the object and repair any damage done.  

2. Collect All the Relevant Medical Records

Gather all of the medical records relevant to your surgery. You should have some or all of the following:

  • Consultation records
  • Results of medical testing
  • All diagnoses made by the medical professionals who treated you
  • Records of prescriptions

When viewed together, these records provide the facts and reasoning surrounding your surgery and help your attorney build a strong medical malpractice case. They are absolutely necessary for a finding of medical malpractice or some other theory of liability, such as product liability.

retained object examples

3. Seek Advice from a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The sooner you seek representation from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, the sooner you can get the compensation you deserve and move on with your life. Additionally, the sooner you take legal action, the stronger your claim will usually be.

When you retain a New York medical malpractice attorney quickly, you avoid some of the issues that arise in delayed cases, such as missing or unavailable witnesses and lost or destroyed evidence.

Possible Complications and Injuries Caused by Retained Surgical Instruments and Sponges

As you might imagine, the potential complications of retained surgical items can be grave. The presence of unintended items can easily disrupt crucial body processes or cause devastating internal injuries. Even when a foreign object is intended to remain inside a patient's body, complications, such as rejection, may still arise — much more so when something is not supposed to be there.

When the retained foreign objects are sharp or pointy, such as a scalpel or needle, the potential for lacerations or punctures is high. Internal organs, veins, and delicate tissue are all in danger of suffering a wound when sharp or pointed items remain inside a patient.

Even soft objects without an edge or point can be dangerous if left inside a patient. Items like sponges and gauze pads can cause infections and fester over time. If left untreated, an infection can spread throughout the body. These softer items might also cause obstructions and blockages that lead to dangerous medical conditions.

Compensation for a Retained Foreign Object

Retained foreign bodies can lead to all manner of injuries and negative impacts on your life. Fortunately, victims of surgical malpractice can pursue damages for their losses.

New York allows you to seek various forms of compensation, including compensation for:

  • The medical costs you incurred because of the retained foreign body, such as emergency room costs, hospital expenses, and costs associated with doctor's visits
  • Lost income and lost future earning capacity
  • Costs associated with future care that may be needed
  • Travel costs associated with medical treatment
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium

Compensation usually comes by way of a settlement. During settlement negotiations, the insurance company handling the claim will fight to pay as little as possible. Because of this, victims of surgical errors need a skilled advocate who can faithfully represent their interests against insurance adjusters.

When an insurance company refuses to pay what it should, the victim's attorney will file a lawsuit to compel a proper payment.

foreign body left after surgery compensation

Risk Factors Increasing the Likelihood that Surgical Errors Will Happen

When it comes to surgeries, a few factors tend to increase the risk of unintended foreign body retention. They include:

  • Procedures that have taken too long
  • Emergency operations, which are riskier than planned surgeries
  • The presence of multiple surgery teams or multiple procedures
  • The occurrence of complications during surgery
  • The surgical procedure needs to be stopped or changed
  • Patients who are overweight or obese

Surgical centers and hospitals have mechanisms in place to help prevent retained foreign objects and other mistakes, but they do not always work. For example, the manual counting method of keeping track of sponges and post-surgery cavity sweeps still allows numerous cases of retained sponges to occur.

Possible Solutions to Surgical Errors

The technology is there to prevent these incidents from happening. With improved counting and tracking strategies, hospitals could reduce or eliminate their cases of unintended foreign objects left behind.

One hospital adopted tracking technology that used a wand to track sponges. If a wand beeps when passing over an operation site, it means a sponge has been left behind. After having the technology for some while, the hospital reported a zero incident rate for sponges left behind.

Unfortunately, not many of the thousands of hospitals throughout the U.S. have adopted this technology. Instead, they rely on manual counting procedures that regularly lead to errors. Their decision not to implement the technology needlessly puts people at risk of harm and loss.

Put Your Trust in the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm for Unintended Retention Cases

If you suspect that you or a loved one has an unintended foreign surgical object inside them, we invite you to contact the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm. Our team of experienced surgical malpractice attorneys has recovered significant compensation for many clients and can potentially help you. Contact us today at (212) 869-3500 for a free consultation.