Interesting opinion, Forsberg v. Edward Hospital, just came down from the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District. The plaintiff alleged that she underwent a lumpectomy on June 4, 2004 at Edward Hospital. The surgeon was Dr. Piazza. Two incisions were made – one near the armpit and one near the left breast. During surgery, sponges were used, and one was inserted into the surgical wound. Near the end of the procedure, a nurse advised Dr. Piazza that all sponges had been collected. As a result he closed and the procedure was completed.
Dr. Piazza saw the defendant on several occasions after surgery. When he felt the armpit incision was not healing, he scheduled a follow-up procedure. On July 30, 2004, during the second procedure, he discovered the sponge and removed it.
The plaintiff sued both the doctor and hospital. The hospital settled their case with the plaintiff. Dr. Piazza brought a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff had failed to disclose expert evidence that a deviation from the standard of care had occurred, as required by Illinois law. The plaintiff, in response, argued that no expert testimony was necessary, because of “common knowledge” exception to the rule requiring expert testimony in a med mal case. The “common sense” exception basically says that under certain circumstances, a juror knows, without any help from an expert, that a doctor has screwed up. And plaintiff arged that jurors would know that leaving a sponge inside a body is a breach of the standard of care. Must admit, at this point in the opinion I thougth plaintiff was in good shape. Not so fast.
The Appellate Court agreed that the “common knowledge” exception had been applied when sponges were left in the patient’s body. In another 2008 decision, Willaby v. Bendersky, the Court held that even without expert evidence, a sponge left in a body established a prima facie case of medical negligence – BUT the defendant still gets an opportunity to explain just how the sponge got there. In other words, the presumption that the defendant is negligent created by the simple presence of the sponge can be rebutted.
In Ms. Forsberg’s case, the Appellate Court noted that the doctor reasonably relied upon the nursing personnel[employees of the hospital] in assuming all sponges had been collected. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment on behalf of the doctor.
Much as I hate to admit it, this is a well-reasoned opinion.
[As an aside the plaintiff did offer some other arguments apart from the “common knowledge” angle. Those arguments, which are too boring to explain in an already lengthy post, were not convincing to the Appellate Court].