Unless you undergo a surgical procedure with a goal of intentionally leaving something behind—like inserting a pacemaker—you expect that your surgical team will remove all the clamps, sponges, and other equipment used during a procedure. But, unfortunately, foreign objects can be left behind after the surgeon closes you up. Leaving behind a foreign object is considered a “never event,” an event that should never happen during or after a procedure when proper care is being given to the patient. The presence of a foreign object inside a patient after a surgery is an obvious example of negligence that can cause harm to a patient years after a procedure is performed.
Failing to Take Care of the Patient
Every surgical center and surgical team should have a system of checks in place to ensure no tools or instruments are left behind inside of a patient after surgery. If a provider fails to require a system of checks be performed after every procedure or if a provider fails to follow the system after a specific procedure, then the provider breached the provider’s duty to care for the patient by failing to make sure no equipment was left behind inside of the patient. Failing to follow the standard of care a reasonable healthcare provider would follow under the same set of circumstances is negligence.
Harm Caused by Foreign Object
Foreign objects left behind after a surgery are usually found in one of two ways:
- The object causes pain or other complication to the patient and the object is found during testing to diagnose the cause of the patient’s current issue.
- The object is found during a screening for an unrelated issue. (For example, if a patient breaks a rib and has an x-ray taken to locate the break, then the x-ray could also show an object left behind from a prior abdominal surgery.)
If a foreign object is causing a patient to suffer a post-surgical complication, then the patient is unquestionably harmed by the provider’s negligence. But, even if an object is not causing physical pain or complications to a patient at the time of discovery, the patient still suffers harm from the provider’s negligence. At the least, the patient will likely have to undergo another surgical procedure to remove the object. An additional surgery not only subjects the patient to an otherwise unnecessary procedure, but also exposes the patient to post-surgical complications, such as infections and blood clots.
The Discovery Rule: Separate Statute of Limitations for Foreign Object Cases
In Georgia, medical malpractice cases generally must be brought within two years of an injury caused by a negligent act or omission. However, because a foreign object left inside a patient can take years, sometimes decades, to be discovered, Georgia lawmakers created a different timeline for filing a medical malpractice case involving a foreign object. A patient has one year from the date of discovery of the object to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice. So, even if a surgery occurred ten years prior to the discovery of an object left behind, a patient can still file a malpractice lawsuit against the negligent provider, so long as the patient file it within one year of discovering the object. This does not shorten the two-years that a patient has to file a lawsuit, so if a patient quickly discovers a foreign object after a surgery, the patient would have two years from the date of the surgery to bring a claim.
If you or a loved one are one of the unfortunate few to experience medical malpractice due to a surgical tool being left behind, do not wait to hold the healthcare provider accountable. Contact The Champion Firm today.