In 2012, a 73-year-old Pennsylvania woman underwent vaginal prolapse surgery, which was performed in a hospital by her gynecologist. During the operation, a surgical needle was mistakenly left inside the patient’s body. Over the next 3 years the she claimed she suffered generalized bowel complaints—pain and gas—which progressed by 2014 to diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, nausea, difficult eating, and weight loss. In early 2015, an imaging study identified the needle from the original surgery, and the woman was diagnosed with a bowel perforation and diverticulitis, which she had also been diagnosed with in 2000 and 2012. The needle was removed, the patient was treated with antibiotics, and her bowel perforation was repaired.
The patient sued the gynecologist, his practice, and the hospital alleging they were negligent in leaving the needle in her after surgery. She claimed to have weight loss, abdominal pain, and diarrhea leading up to the discovery of the surgical needle, and in addition she had a continued need for medication to alleviate her bowel cramping issues. She sought damages for past and future pain and suffering as well as the recovery of $3,292.30 in medical costs.
The patient’s expert witness faulted the gynecologist for leaving the surgical needle inside the patient; he also faulted the surgical nurses for failing to provide a proper count of the needles to the surgeon. The expert determined that the needle was free-floating and could have caused the bowel perforation at any time.
The gynecologist’s expert in colorectal surgery maintained that surgical metallic objects are left frequently in the body without causing problems to patients. In this instance, the needle was nestled in the cul-de-sac in her lower pelvis, below a considerable amount of tissue, and did not cause the patient’s bowel perforation. The expert concluded that he was not negligent in leaving the needle inside the patient, and instead faulted the nurses for their improper needle count. The gynecologist’s radiology expert confirmed that the needle inside the patient had not moved more than 1 mm during the various studies.
The jury found in favor of the patient, after deliberating for 6 hours at the conclusion of a 5-day trial. The jury found the hospital but not the gynecologist negligent and awarded $13,292.30.
In medical malpractice cases involving retained foreign objects, it is common for the hospital to settle with the patient because it is negligent to leave a sponge or needle inside a patient when a correct count has been reported to the surgeon. The issue then becomes the amount of compensation for damages to the patient. Occasionally a trial goes forward to assess a surgeon’s part in leaving a foreign object. In this case, the patient and the hospital entered a confidential settlement prior to trial, but due to the gynecologist’s claims against the hospital, the hospital remained on the verdict slip and was present at trial, and so, the jury assessed the hospital with responsibility.