S.C. Court Upholds $250K Retained Sponge Verdict
Patient suffered pain, vaginal discharge and embarrassing odor for 2 months before error was detected.
Published: July 19, 2011
A South Carolina hospital has lost its bid to overturn a $250,000 malpractice verdict awarded to a patient who suffered pain, discomfort and an embarrassing odor from a sponge left inside her vagina after hysterectomy surgery.
AnMed Health had admitted liability in the case of Elise Burke, 73, who underwent an abdominal hysterectomy at the hospital on March 22, 2005. According to court documents, a pre-operative nurse mistakenly left a cleansing sponge in Ms. Burke's vagina, which went undetected during the surgery.
After the procedure, Ms. Burke felt increasing pain, discolored vaginal discharge and an offensive odor that she and her family argued had caused her emotional distress. Over a 2-month period, she raised these concerns with her doctor and sought medical assistance 6 times, according to court documents and testimony.
"I had suffered the whole time for 9 weeks and trying to tell [the doctor] that something was wrong, and he did nothing about it," Ms. Burke told the jury. "And it was so embarrassing I mean, when my friends would come in from the odor."
On May 23, 2005, her doctor finally performed a vaginal exam and discovered the retained sponge, which was surgically removed the next day. In the suit, Ms. Burke and her family claimed that she continued to feel pain and weakness after the second surgery.
While it admitted liability, AnMed Health appealed the trial court's April 27, 2011, verdict on several grounds. The hospital argued that the trial court erred in failing to "excuse all potential jurors who owed a debt" to the hospital; in admitting the cost of the hysterectomy procedure (about $21,559) as evidence of damages; and in denying the defendant's motion for a new trial on the grounds that the verdict was "contrary to the fair preponderance of the evidence."
None of these arguments swayed the Court of Appeals of South Carolina, which affirmed the lower court's ruling.
While the state appeals court agreed with AnMed Health that the jury award of $250,000 was "generous," it upheld the trial court's refusal to grant a new trial on the basis of the award amount.
"The distress Ms. Burke endured is certainly compelling," wrote the appeals court judges. "We believe the trial court was uniquely able to understand Ms. Burke's damages, and likewise, uniquely able to evaluate the appropriateness of the jury's award."
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