Can I Sue a Doctor for Leaving a Surgical Instrument Inside Me?

Undergoing any kind of surgery is both scary and stressful. For most Virginia surgical patients, the procedure will go as it should allowing them to recover and return to their normal lives feeling better. Unfortunately, patients’ recoveries can be impeded when a surgeon or other healthcare provider is negligent. One such act of negligence is when a surgical instrument is left inside a patient.-meaning the kind of instrument left behind that has no therapeutic purpose. When this happens, an additional procedure will most likely be required to extract the object but at times the foreign object may have been causing unusual medical symptoms or even serious infection.  

What factors contribute to retained surgical objects?

Leaving surgical instruments inside patients following a medical procedure is a serious issue for both hospitals and surgeons. The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates that a surgical tool is left inside patients for roughly one out of every 1,000 abdominal surgeries. In other words, out of the 28 million surgeries performed every year in the United States, 1,500 of them involve retained surgical instruments, most of which were left in the pelvis, retroperitoneum, and abdomen. Many hospital professionals treat objects left inside a patient as “never events” which should never happen when the surgical team follows basic safety protocols.

If you underwent an operation and later discovered that a surgical instrument had been left inside your body, it is essential that you seek sound legal advice. Based on the facts of your case, you could have a viable medical malpractice claim. The Virginia medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp can advise you on what to do next and how you can protect your right to compensation. 

How Does a Surgical Instrument Get Left Inside Someone?

Depending on the specific type of procedure being performed, a surgeon can use as many as 250 different tools and instruments during a single surgery. If the surgeon or the technician who is responsible for keeping track of the various tools and implements is not paying attention, they can make mistakes, such as losing track of a particular tool, despite the fact that most hospitals require the surgical staff and surgeon to maintain a count of all such implements and to further review and check the count at the end of the surgery or procedure.

The most common objects left inside patients’ after surgery are: 

  • Sponges
  • Scissors and scalpels
  • Drain tips and tubes
  • Needles
  • Clamps and forceps
  • Scopes
  • Surgical gloves and masks
  • Measuring devices

Sponges are especially difficult to monitor. Surgeons use them to absorb blood during an operation so once they are used, they usually blend in with a patient’s tissues and organs.  

The leading cause of retained surgical instruments is human error. Inaccurate tool and equipment counts can be caused by a lack of experience with surgical emergencies, ineffective management systems, or fatigue. Along with human error, there are multiple risk factors that can increase the odds of a surgical implement being left inside a patient. These factors include more than one surgery being performed, a procedure that involves multiple surgical teams, surgeries that involve a considerable degree of blood loss, and patients with a high body mass index.

When you work with our law firm, we will consult top medical professionals to establish exactly how and why a surgical tool was left inside you during a procedure. Determining the exact cause of this negligence is a cornerstone of achieving a successful outcome for your medical malpractice case, and we also evaluate the gravity of the consequences of the retained object, meaning will you have some lingering symptoms or permanent effects?

What Happens When a Surgical Instrument Gets Left Behind?

The additional procedures, physical pain, and other consequences that are associated with retained surgical instruments will vary based on what tool was left inside the patient. In some cases, patients can go for months or even years without knowing they have a foreign object inside of them. With some tools, however, intense pain, infection, digestive issues, damage to internal organs, obstructions, swelling, and fever may be present. If this happens, the patient will invariably have to undergo additional surgery in order to fix the surgeon’s mistake. This means their overall recovery is going to take longer, which can lead to serious financial troubles. In a worst-case scenario, a surgical tool left inside the body can result in the patient’s death.

To avoid these adverse consequences, it is vital for surgeons and their surgical teams to do everything in their power to ensure that no tools or equipment are left inside of their patients. This may include using technology that is able to track sponges through the use of a bar code that gets scanned when each sponge is used. Modern technology can also use radio frequencies to track towels, sponges, and other tools via X-ray if they are still in a patient before the surgeon closes them up. Despite this advanced technology, the onus of responsibility is on surgical teams to keep track of what they are using and that all items are accounted for when the procedure is complete. 

Are You a Victim of Medical Negligence?

If you were injured by medical negligence, filing a personal injury claim is the best way to ensure you receive the financial compensation you need to fully recover. When you work with an experienced lawyer, you could obtain damages for your medical costs, lost earnings, pain, suffering, and more.

Filing a claim is a time-consuming process, and medical malpractice cases can be very challenging. The sooner you file, the better your odds are of collecting fair financial compensation. At the Virginia Beach law offices of Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, we help clients who have been injured through any form of negligence, including surgical errors.

What is the Virginia Statute of Limitations on Retained Objects?

There is a special time frame exception in Virginia governing objects left inside the patient’s body which states:

  • 8.01-243. Personal action for injury to person or property generally; extension in actions for malpractice against health care provider.
  1. Unless otherwise provided in this section or by other statute, every action for personal injuries, whatever the theory of recovery, and every action for damages resulting from fraud, shall be brought within two years after the cause of action accrues.


  1. The two-year limitations period specified in subsection A shall be extended in actions for malpractice against a healthcare provider as follows:
  2. In cases arising out of a foreign object having no therapeutic or diagnostic effect being left in a patient’s body, for a period of one year from the date the object is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered….

This allows a one-year extension of the time for the suit from when a patient first discovers an object left behind—which can serve to extend the statute of limitations for a year.

If a medical error due to a non-therapeutic medical object improperly left inside your body caused your serious injuries, contact an experienced Virginia medical malpractice lawyer. Schedule your free consultation by filling in our simple inquiry form or by giving us a call at (833) 997-1774 today. 

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