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Medical Verdicts


Surgical towel left in patient during hysterectomy

August 2003 · Vol. 15, No. 8

<court>Undisclosed County (Va) Circuit Court</court>

During an abdominal hysterectomy, a surgeon placed surgical towels soaked in warm saline between a 42-year-old patient’s bowels and the blades of a self-retaining retractor. Following surgery, the woman returned home without any problems.

Several weeks later, the patient experienced pain and cramping. A diagnostic workup was conducted, along with abdominal exploratory surgery. A 12-cm mass, later identified as a surgical towel, was discovered attached to the anterior abdominal wall.

In suing, the patient claimed the operating room staff was negligent in failing to count the surgical towels following the procedure.

The physician contended that he had inquired about the towel count and the nurses had accounted for all the towels used. The nurses argued that counting surgical towels is not routine, since towels are not designed to be placed inside an incision. Unlike surgical sponges, surgical towels do not contain a radiopaque thread or tape; as a result, they are indiscernible by x-ray if a count is incorrect.

  • The case settled for $100,000.

The cases presented here were compiled by Lewis L. Laska, editor of Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts. While there are instances when the available information is incomplete, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation.

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