Retained Surgical ItemsRetained surgical items place patients at risk of a wide range of complications, including infection, internal bleeding, and permanent disability related to the removal of infected tissues or organs. When this happens, the patient is entitled to compensation in a malpractice case.

About Retained Surgical Items

Retained surgical items are any foreign materials that are inadvertently left inside a patient after a surgical procedure. Sponges account for about 70 percent of the retained surgical objects left inside patients. Since they are typically small in size and hard to see when they have been used to soak up blood, it is easy for the operating team to overlook a sponge if the surgery involves complications or hectic operating conditions. Many hospitals are starting to use sponges with barcode or radio frequency tracking technology, but this type of error still occurs thousands of times per year.

Other items that have been found in patients include:

  • Scalpels
  • Needles
  • Tubing
  • Clamps
  • Guide wires
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Surgical gloves
  • Surgical masks

Symptoms of Retained Surgical Items

Abdominal pain is by far the most common symptom associated with a retained surgical object. However, other symptoms that patients might notice include:

  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Digestive problems
  • Chest pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Loss of consciousness with no visible cause

Since these symptoms can indicate a wide range of medical conditions, many people do not make the connection between their discomfort and a retained surgical item.  They may believe they have simply caught the flu or that recovery from their surgery is a little more complicated than they expected.


Imaging tests such as ultrasound, mammography, magnetic resonance imaging, and fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography are the most common way to diagnose a retained surgical item. Sometimes, tests for another unrelated reason reveals the item still inside the patient. 

Seeking Compensation

Patients who have experienced a retained surgical item have a solid malpractice case. The legal doctrine that applies to retained sponges or tools is known as res ipsa loquitur. This is a Latin term that means "the thing speaks for itself." Since surgical items should not be left inside a patient, the foreign object is proof in itself that malpractice has occurred.

Victims of malpractice have a right to compensation for:

  • Medical care related to the incident
  • Anticipated future needs, if the malpractice has left them permanently disabled
  • Lost wages during the recovery period
  • Loss of future earning potential, if the malpractice resulted in a permanent disability
  • Pain and suffering

Calling a lawyer immediately is the best way to protect your right to malpractice compensation for retained surgical items. Hospitals are well-represented and eager to minimize their financial loss from this type of claim. Without someone who can advocate for your needs, you risk a settlement that is much too low to properly compensate you for the effects of the surgical team's negligence.

The dedicated Inland Empire Law Group's attorneys have helped residents of Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Victorville, Fontana, and the surrounding areas receive the medical malpractice compensation they deserve. Call (888) 694-3529 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

David Ricks
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Rancho Cucamonga Personal Injury Lawyer Serving the Inland Empire Community