December 14, 2003

Nurses slip up, doctor pays

Readers following the malpractice crisis may find interesting this clip regarding a jury's award of $1.54 million to a woman in whom a surgical sponge had been left after her surgery. (Hilary Bentman, "Court upholds malpractice decision", Bucks County Courier Times, Aug. 10). According to the story, hospital officials admitted the error, blaming it on nurses who had given the doctor an inaccurate sponge count. A court held that not only the hospital but also the doctor could be held liable and cited something called "the 'captain of the ship' doctrine -- meaning the doctor has responsibility for all that happens in the operating room". It rejected the doctor's argument that he had not himself been negligent and ruled that "the jury could properly find that since he himself placed the sponges in Mrs. Cox's abdomen, he remained ultimately responsible for removing them, regardless of any negligence on the part of the nurses in the operating room."

A friend of mine commented about this case that it would be irresponsible for every doctor to do his own sponge count. Keeping a patient under anesthesia for even one second more than necessary is really negligent. Yet that is what the law in Pennsylvania now seems to require. -- Beth Caucci, Clarks Summit, Pa.

Posted by Walter Olson at December 14, 2003 11:44 AM