Lawsuit Over Surgical Sponge Left in Patient Results in $525k Verdict

A Pennsylvania woman has been awarded more than $500,000 in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed after a surgical sponge was left in her abdomen during a cesarean section. 

Erin Webster brought the complaint against Lower Bucks Hospital, Dr. Richard Turner and nurses Megan Blatcher and Laura Tedesco, alleging that the medical providers negligently left a laparotomy sponge inside of her in March 2004.

As a result of the surgical malpractice, Webster alleges that she suffered abdominal pains, a severe infection, bowel perforation, bowel obstruction and digestive problems.

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The sponge was not discovered until two months later, when Webster complained of abdominal pains. She had to undergo additional surgery to remove 16 inches of her small bowel, which still did not alleviate all of her medical problems.

Last week, a Bucks County jury awarded Webster $525,000 and found the hospital, Blatcher and Tedesco liable. The two nurses repeatedly failed to do a proper count of medical equipment during and after the surgery, according to the complaint. The jury determined that Turner was not liable.

According to a report on PhillyBurbs.com, Webster’s attorneys are seeking an additional quarter million dollars in damages in interest fees since the lawsuit was first filed in 2005.

Leaving a surgical sponge behind after a medical procedure is rare, but can pose serious and potentially fatal consequences. Precautionary measures like sponge counts, tracking bar codes and radiographic screening after operations can greatly reduce the risk.

According to a 2003 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there were about 1,500 cases a year in which a sponge or surgical tool was left behind after surgery. Approximately 88% of the cases involved a final count that was incorrect.

In many cases, forgotten surgical sponges left after surgery are not discovered for a number or years, when patients begin suffering from unexplained symptoms. The difficulty in detecting the surgical mistake has led most states to allow exeptions to the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in cases where a foreign object is left behind during surgery.

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5 Comments

  • PatriciaJune 15, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Two orthopedics doctors that was performing my surgery. Accidentally broke two suture needles in my shoulder. One they was able to remove but the other still remain in my shoulder. I have been fighting this case for 6 years. Also, I woke up with huge knot in back of my head. I'm totally impaired in right shoulder and suffer severe headaches daily along with new medical problems I did not have pri[Show More]Two orthopedics doctors that was performing my surgery. Accidentally broke two suture needles in my shoulder. One they was able to remove but the other still remain in my shoulder. I have been fighting this case for 6 years. Also, I woke up with huge knot in back of my head. I'm totally impaired in right shoulder and suffer severe headaches daily along with new medical problems I did not have prior to surgery. I need attorney to help appeal to US Supreme Court per Houma, LA clerk of court states. Where the surgery was done.

  • NateOctober 30, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Adjunct technologies that assist clinicians with preventing these adverse events, such as Stryker's SurgiCount technology, are now recommended by almost all influential healthcare organizations (Joint Commission, AORN, AST, etc). Studies have found that in over 95% of retained surgical sponge incidents, a root cause analysis determined that the staff in the operating room believed the sponge count[Show More]Adjunct technologies that assist clinicians with preventing these adverse events, such as Stryker's SurgiCount technology, are now recommended by almost all influential healthcare organizations (Joint Commission, AORN, AST, etc). Studies have found that in over 95% of retained surgical sponge incidents, a root cause analysis determined that the staff in the operating room believed the sponge count was correct (they did not believe they were missing one in the first place). Humans make mistakes - every other industry has provided us with technology solutions to prevent these types of errors. With SurgiCount, a surgeon can ask "has the sponge count been validated" rather than "is the sponge count correct?" and close with confidence.

  • FrancesMarch 17, 2012 at 3:13 am

    Fearful - bring suit and never find willing or competent care again, ever. No one wants to treat another doctor's mistakes. Medical records typically don't record foreign object retained, do they? What doctor or hospital would record that? Maybe just the state and hospitals I have visited. Typically not documented until lawsuit brought. Medical records unreliable.

  • melissaFebruary 6, 2012 at 2:54 am

    I too had a foreign body left in me- its been 8 years for me though but it was not officially discovered or reported as surgical material,, metal artifact, high density surgical material etc until 2011- i had a laparascopic surgery and the surgeon reported as no foreign body and the pathlogy report said foreign body giant cell reaction. The reports show that theres still some in there so they did[Show More]I too had a foreign body left in me- its been 8 years for me though but it was not officially discovered or reported as surgical material,, metal artifact, high density surgical material etc until 2011- i had a laparascopic surgery and the surgeon reported as no foreign body and the pathlogy report said foreign body giant cell reaction. The reports show that theres still some in there so they didnt get the whole thing and refuse to go back in and remove/take out- this person was so lucky they discovered hers before all this damage set in and lucky they will remove it for her- mdelmastro@verizon.net you would be amazed how little surgeons, medical staff, even some lawyers know about this.....

  • JimJuly 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Your readers might be interested to learn that in recent years new safety technology has become available with RFID tags in sponges to electronically validate counts and reconcile cases, as well as providing providers with the ability to quickly scan the patient or elsewhere in the OR to locate any missing sponges. Providers using this technology have never experienced a retained sponge incident [Show More]Your readers might be interested to learn that in recent years new safety technology has become available with RFID tags in sponges to electronically validate counts and reconcile cases, as well as providing providers with the ability to quickly scan the patient or elsewhere in the OR to locate any missing sponges. Providers using this technology have never experienced a retained sponge incident since deploying it. Beyond the safety benefits, the economics to the hospital are usually compelling as well given the high cost of repeat surgery, legal fees, judgments or settlements. If interested in learning more, see www.clearcount.com.

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