Medical Verdicts

Blue towel left in abdomen: $7.2M verdict

Notable judgments and settlements


Blue towel left in abdomen: $7.2M verdict
When a 61-year-old woman underwent
laparoscopic hysterectomy, her gynecologist, Dr. A, was assisted by another gynecologist (Dr. B), a nurse, and a technician. When Dr. A noted that the uterine artery had been injured, he converted to an open procedure, retracted the bowel, repaired the artery, and completed the operation.

Postdischarge, the patient was febrile and developed abdominal pain and an odorous vaginal discharge. A month later, exploratory surgery revealed a retained blue towel that had been used for bowel retraction. The patient required open healing of the surgical wound and a temporary colostomy. She developed an incisional hernia after colostomy reversal, and hernia repair required resection of a small portion of the bowel.

PATIENT’S CLAIM It was negligent to use a blue towel to retract the bowel. The towel should have been removed from her abdomen before closure.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The technician claimed that she did not provide the towel, did not see the towel used, and that she was not told that the towel had to be tracked. She noted that its color indicated that it lacked a radiopaque tag, and that hospital policy forbade use of untagged towels in an open wound.

Dr. A claimed that he specifically requested a blue towel because it was absorbent, that the technician provided the towel, and that the towel’s use prevented the patient from bleeding to death.

VERDICT A $7.2 million New York verdict was returned against both gynecologists and the hospital as the technician’s employer.

A few days after a woman thought she miscarried, her family practi-tioner (FP) performed a dilation and curettage (D&C).

The patient was at work 12 days later when she expelled a fully formed 14-week fetus into a toilet. She was taken to the emergency department (ED), where the cord was cut. Later that day, she passed placental tissue; a repeat D&C was performed the next day.

PATIENT'S CLAIM The FP did not properly perform the first D&C. Although the pathology report was available to the FP prior to the patient’s postoperative visit, the FP failed to inform the patient that no fetal parts had been extracted.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE Because the FP thought that the fetus had been passed prior to the D&C, she believed the pathology report was appropriate.

The patient had been informed of the possibility of retained products of conception after the D&C. The FP had ordered a blood pregnancy test that would have revealed the presence of retained products of conception, but the patient did not have the test. The patient did not contact the FP to report symptoms that felt like labor pains on the day that she passed the fetus.

VERDICT A bench trial resulted in a $51,000 California verdict.

A 23-year-old woman went to the ED with pain and swelling in her lower left leg and calf. The symptoms were reported to her ObGyn, who examined and then discharged her within a few hours, with instructions to come for her regularly scheduled prenatal visit.

The patient died 2 weeks later. The cause of death was determined to be a pulmonary embolus from a thrombus of the left popliteal vein.

ESTATE’S CLAIM The ObGyn was negligent in failing to test the patient for thrombosis in her left leg when she was in the ED or several days later at the office, when she continued to report leg pain.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE The patient did not have signs of thrombosis at the ED or at the subsequent office visit. The pathologist reported that the clot that caused the embolus appeared fresh. The ObGyn surmised that it had formed after the patient’s last appointment.

VERDICT A Texas defense verdict was returned.

Mother took topiramate; child born with cleft lip and palate: $3M verdict
When a woman learned she was pregnant
in December 2007, she was taking topiramate (Topamax) to treat migraine headaches. She discussed tapering off but not discontinuing topiramate usage with her neurologist. The patient’s ObGyn told her that topiramate was safe to take during pregnancy. The child was born with a cleft lip and palate.

PARENTS’ CLAIM Janssen Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of Topamax, failed to provide adequate warnings about the potential risks associated with Topamax until labeling was changed in March 2011. Janssen knew of potential birth defects associated with Topamax use during pregnancy more than a decade before the labeling change; Janssen’s associate director of regulatory affairs had testified in an earlier hearing that there was knowledge of related birth defects as early as 1996.

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