Miami judge awards $455,000 for towel left in patient after surgery

U.S.A. Florida


Anyone familiar with this hospital?

Miami judge awards $455,000 for towel left in patient after surgery

By Catherine Wilson

The Associated Press

October 7, 2003, 5:19 PM EDT

MIAMI -- A judge ordered the Veterans Administration to pay a former patient and his wife $455,000 in damages Tuesday for leaving a 16-by-28-inch surgical towel inside him.

William Barlow's medical team knew from CT scans that he had a foreign object in his abdomen after surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm but discharged him and didn't tell him for three months, the judge said.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages heard the trial without a jury and issued a summary of Barlow's medical case along with the damage award.

``I think it's a fair decision and a sizable sum of money considering Mr. Barlow's age and prior extensive medical history,'' said Lance Stelzer, one of his attorneys. Co-counsel Robert Bryan said: ``She gave everyone a fair shake. She did right.''

The VA conceded fault on the forgotten towel but tried to limit the damage award, citing Barlow's poor health and obesity. A message left with the government's attorney was not immediately returned.

Barlow's attorneys said the agency offered $100,000 in mediation before the trial last month.

Barlow, 62, developed sepsis, a dangerous bloodstream infection, within a week and had a 105-degree fever, the judge said in her summary. He was sent home with a drain to remove pus that accumulated around the towel.

Surgeons thought a sponge had been left inside him, but a second operation in April 2001 instead uncovered the blue cotton towel, which was not designed for use inside the abdomen during surgery.

The judge decided Barlow's existing medical problems, including emphysema, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, were aggravated by the prolonged infection, the 10-day stay for the towel's removal and the quick succession of major surgeries. He also had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney in 2000.

Barlow was in the army from 1958 to 1960. The retired mechanic and electrician bought an airboat business in 1998 but said he was unable to work after the towel was left in place.

A newly released federal report shows that postoperative infections, the reopening of surgical wounds and other often-preventable complications lead to more than 32,000 U.S. hospital deaths and more than $9 billion in extra costs a year.

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


564 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care.

I gotto say I think he deserved the settlement.



9 Posts

Where did the surgeon do his residency in surgery? Any nurse/tech with a brain knows you don't pack the abdomen with anything but laps with the blue flag!!!


465 Posts

I don't know anything else about the case, and I had the same question. Wish someone else could pitch in with info....

Welcome to allnurses - lots of great people here!!


2,450 Posts

I am a Surgical tech. When I was a student I had few surgeons who would try to use the towels to pack the abdomen. They were being impatient and did not think the lap sponges were "big" enough. I learned quick to hide my towels under by basin set up. I even keep a finger on my lap sponges and never keep more than one near/on my mayo. You may turn your head to you back table for a second and BAM!!!

That is why those counts are SO important....

I even count to make sure there are the right amount of people left in the room at the end of the surgery..... Residents and med students (bless there hearts) always seem to fall in..... :uhoh21:


1 Post

Incidentally, I like the way you have structured your site, it is super and very easy to follow. I have bookmarked you and will be back regularly. Thank you Surgical Towel


170 Posts

Wow! I would like to know .. What was the end result of everyone in the room? as in do they have jobs? post settlement


985 Posts

Specializes in Cardiac Telemetry, Emergency, SAFE.
Wow! I would like to know .. What was the end result of everyone in the room? as in do they have jobs? post settlement

Captain of the Ship would apply here:

CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP: An adaptation from the 'borrowed servant rules', as applied to an operating room, which arose in McConnell v Williams, holding the person in charge–eg, a surgeon responsible for all under his supervision, regardless of whether the 'captain' is directly responsible for an alleged error or act of alleged negligence, and despite the assistants' positions as hospital employees. Cf 'Borrowed servant.', Respondeat superior.

So, im assuming other than gross negilgence on the part of the OR team, they should all have their jobs. As for blue towels, I was also a Surg Tech and I would try and hide towels during the procedures, but some surgeons would catch a FIT. And so, as if a full instrument count wasnt fun to begin with, at times we'd be counting the nonradiopaque towels as well. :rolleyes:

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