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Towel left inside patient caused massive infection – $2 Million Verdict

The plaintiff was a 49-year-old woman who had abdominal surgery in February 2015. The defendant surgeon closed her wound but left a blue surgical towel, measuring 22” x 16”, in the wound. Such towels are NEVER to be introduced into a patient’s body. After the patient left the OR, the defendant ordered an x-ray “stat” to “rule out foreign body.” The x-ray revealed nothing because surgical towels are not radiopaque, as lap pads and sponges are. The towel caused pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weight loss until it was found and removed by a surgical oncologist in December 2015. Since that time, due to massive infection, the plaintiff has had multiple surgeries, continues to have an open abdominal wound that requires daily dressing, and has multiple hospitalizations for blood loss, dehydration and sepsis. Her abdomen is catastrophically damaged and she is at high risk for complications and infection for the rest of her life. She will also have chronic pain for the rest of her life.
The plaintiff’s damages were not challenged, but the defendant physician testified that he did not place the towel in her abdomen, and that he did not see anyone else place the towel (even though he was at the table the entire time and never “broke scrub”).  His expert testified that the towel could have been “missed” on pre-closure inspection due to the plaintiff’s body habitus. He also testified that the towel could have “migrated” as a result of the plaintiff’s positioning.


Type of action: Medical Malpractice

Injuries alleged: Infected abdomen, permanent injury

Name of case: Rebecca Garnett v. George Nowacek M.D. and Gynecological Associates of Fredericksburg

Court: Fredericksburg Circuit Court

Date resolved: May 30, 2018

Special damages: $444,000 in past medical expenses

Offer: $700,000 immediately prior to closing arguments

Verdict or settlement: Verdict

Amount: $2,000,000

Attorneys for plaintiff: Malcolm P. McConnell III and Derrick L. Walker, Richmond

Attorneys for defendant: Byron Mitchell, Fredericksburg

Plaintiff’s experts: James Weston M.D., Ob/Gyn Christiansburg, VA; Leonard Aamodt, M.D., Ob/Gyn  Harrisonburg VA;  Huan Vu, M.D., surgical oncology, Lubbock, TX; Levi Proctor, M.D., general surgeon, Richmond, VA

Defendant’s experts: Norman Armstrong, M.D., Ob/Gyn, Reston, VA

Insurance carrier: The Doctors Company