According to a recent article in NPR news, a veteran has sued the VA hospital for malpractice related to the VA leaving a surgical scalpel in his stomach. While medical malpractice is not uncommon, leaving a surgical tool (in this case a four-inch scalpel used to cut tissue inside the body) is not common due to the hospital protocols and procedures that are now in place in almost all medical care facilities. However, in my opinion, the level of care at the VA hospitals is suspect, at best, and an error like this coming out of a VA institution does not surprise me.
While it is always difficult to get accurate numbers, it is estimated that there are almost 1,500 cases of foreign materials left in the body following surgical procedures in the U.S. Most of these cases, however, involve sponges, gloves or other devices (or more often pieces of materials) made out of pliable material. While a mishap like that is bad enough, leaving a scalpel in someone’s stomach after a surgery and then continuing to leave it in after they complain of stomach pain over the next 4 years is such and egregious act of malpractice, that, in my opinion as an Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer, it rises to the level of gross negligence.
Georgia courts define “gross negligence” as being “equivalent to the failure to exercise even a slight degree of care and the lack of the diligence that even careless men are accustomed to exercise. Said another way, the definition for gross negligence provided by Georgia courts, and what a plaintiff in an Emergency Room medical malpractice case must prove in order to win a ER medical malpractice case in Georgia, a plaintiff must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that a physician failed to provide even a “slight degree” of medical care or that the physician’s medical care was less than “careless negligence.” These are high standards to prove (and not needed to prevail against the VA in a non-Emergency Room case), but something that is certainly capable of being proven with facts such as a surgical scalpel being left behind after surgery and not being found even while the patient complains of stomach pain after the surgery. Absolutely horrendous care and something that our veterans should not be subject to, for any reason.