Plaintiff Lois Clark, a 73-year-old Pennsylvania woman, brought a claim of medical malpractice in Cumberland County against Jose M. Manjon, a gynecologist, Holy Spirit Hospital, and the Pinnacle Health System. After she underwent vaginal surgery in 2012, it was determined that a surgical needle was accidentally left behind in her body. In the years following the procedure, she complained of nausea, diarrhea, weight loss and other ailments.
A 2015 imaging scan revealed the presence of the needle, as well as conditions that existed including a perforated bowel and diverticulitis, which is characterized by small pouches that are inflamed or infected within the digestive system. She then underwent a procedure to remove the object, repair her bowel and was given antibiotic therapy. Her claim sought economic damages for medical expenses and for pain and suffering.
A plaintiff expert witness faulted the surgeon and nurses for leaving the needle and failing to account for the missing needle. The needle was said to the “free-floating” and could have led to the perforation of the bowel. A defense witness specializing in colorectal surgery stated that the needle became nestled in the lower region of the pelvis amid a layer of tissue and was unlikely to have caused the perforation. He believed that the nursing staff was the lone source of negligence in the matter. After a five-day trial, a jury found the hospital to be solely liable for the damages.
Incidents such as where objects are unknowingly left inside a surgical patient are referred to as “never events”. Unfortunately, these events do occur sometimes and can have negative outcomes such as organ damage, infections, and can potentially be fatal. Some of the most commonly left items include:
The most common location where objects are left is within the regions of the chest, stomach, or abdomen. When identified, it is typically necessary for the patient to undergo an additional surgery for object removal, forcing them to face any potential complications associated with the second procedure.
Under Pennsylvania law, a claim of professional medical liability is one that pursues recovery for damages when a health care provider causes a patient’s injury or death. In foreign object cases, a surgeon, a hospital, or any other parties involved may be subject to liability. There are no caps on damages in medical negligence cases in the state, except for punitive damages.
The state law defines punitive damages as being those only available for victims whose injury is the result of a medical provider’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. This may include actions such as those that were intentional. In ordinary claims of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations is two years; however, the state has a repose statute (Section 513). The statute of repose allows for claims to be brought for a period of seven years in situations of a foreign object being accidentally left in a patient’s body.