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Northern Virginia, Virginia

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Ben Glass
Ben Glass
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Needle Tip Left in Body, Patient Loses

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A patient sued his orthopedic surgeon after the tip of a needle broke off during surgery and remained in the patient’s body. The patient claimed that he did not need a medical expert to certify the merits of his case or to testify at trial because this was a “foreign object” case.

An Alexandria federal judge helped dismiss the case saying:

In sharp contrast to the typical res ipsa loquitur case where a surgeon unwittingly and inadvertently leaves a sponge or other foreign object inside a patient’s body, the surgeon here did not unwittingly or inadvertently do anything. To the contrary the surgeon was fully aware that the needle had broken and that a small fragment had lodged in plaintiff’s muscle tissue. He attempted to locate the fragment so he could remove it. When the fragment was not found, the surgeon had to make a professional medical judgment: either undertake more invasive searches for the fragment, with the attendant risk of significant harm to plaintiff’s muscle tissue, or leave the fragment in the tissue given that it would not likely cause harm or pain.

The court also ruled that the mere breaking of the needle was not negligence either.

Comment: This case might have been different had the surgeon not realized that the tip of the needle had broken off and had he not made a judgment call as to the risks and benefits of going back in to search for the needle.