More than a dozen times a day, doctors around the country sew up a patient on the operating table with a sponge, surgical instrument, or other foreign object left inside. Sometimes these objects make themselves known quickly, and other times they may take decades to cause problems.
Adam Walton was just three years old in 1986 when he underwent open heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. During the surgery, a piece of a catheter broke off as it was being removed. A nurse noted in the chart that the catheter had broken and had possibly been left in the infant, however the nurse never took any steps to look for it and never informed Walton’s parents of the possibility that there was a piece of a catheter left inside their son.
By the age of 18, Walton was having serious cardiac issues. He had had a pacemaker inserted, and a heart valve replaced, and eventually suffered an embolic stroke. When he was 25, he suffered two transient ischemic attacks, and doctors decided to do an exploratory surgery of his heart.
During the surgery, the doctors discovered the piece of the catheter which had been left there 22 years earlier. The plastic tubing had caused calcifications in Walton’s heart, and was the source of his multiple cardiac issues.
Attorneys for the hospital which performed Walton’s heart surgery as a child argued that the statute of limitations had passed on this case, and that Walton was out of time to sue. However, the New York Court of Appeals held that since the piece of the catheter was a foreign object, the state’s exception to the statute of limitation applied, and Walton was allowed to pursue his lawsuit.
Though Walton’s case happened in New York, there is a similar foreign object exception applicable in California.
Foreign Body Exception
Normally in cases of medical malpractice, a lawsuit in California must be filed within three years of the date of the injury, or within one year of the date the negligence was discovered. The only way these deadlines may be extended is if there is evidence of fraud, intentional concealment, or if there is a foreign object left in the body.
When a foreign object is left in the body, the statute of limitations is tolled, or paused, until the object is discovered. Since there is usually no way for a person to know if an object like a sponge or an operating tool or part of a catheter is left inside of them, it would be unfair to allow the statute of limitations to run out.
In addition, when an object is left inside a patient’s body, that operation is not fully complete until the object is removed. The patient is being harmed every day that the object stays in place, and so the deadline can never really end. Once an object is discovered, that person will have one year to file a lawsuit.
Whether negligence is discovered right away, or takes 20 years to come to light, doctors and medical professionals who commit malpractice should be held responsible for their actions. If you or your loved one was harmed as a result of a foreign object left in the body, or other type of medical malpractice, you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries from the doctor whose negligence harmed you.
At the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., our knowledgeable staff of medical and legal professionals can evaluate your medical case and help you understand your legal rights. If you would like to speak with an experienced Beverley Hills medical malpractice attorney, contact Bradley I. Kramer today by calling (310) 289-2600 or use our online case evaluation form to have your claim reviewed for free.