A three-year-old boy underwent heart surgery. During the surgery, polyvinyl catheters were placed inside his heart to record atrial pressure. Three days later, a follow-up procedure was performed to remove the catheters. A nursing note indicated that a catheter possibly broke off with a portion remaining in the boy. Twenty-two years later, an echocardiogram showed a linear density inside the man's heart. During a subsequent surgery, a 13–centimeter loop of plastic tubing was removed from his heart.
The man sued the hospital and doctors involved in the surgery when he was three years old. The hospital and doctors moved to dismiss on the ground that the man’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The man argued that the statute of limitations was tolled by the foreign object exception to the medical malpractice statute of limitations. The New York Erie County Supreme Court dismissed all of the man’s claims with prejudice. The court determined that the polyvinyl catheter was not a fixation device, a device placed in the patient with the intention that they will remain to serve some continuing treatment purpose. The court determined that the catheter did not fit within the legal definition of a foreign object, an item negligently left in the patient's body without any intended continuing treatment purpose.
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed, but applied different reasoning. The court held that the foreign object exception to the medical malpractice statute of limitations did not apply to the man’s claims. Specifically, the court concluded that the polyvinyl catheter was a fixation device. The court reasoned that the polyvinyl catheter was a fixation device and was not a foreign object because it was intentionally placed inside the man's body to monitor atrial pressure for a few days after the surgery, i.e., it was placed for a continuing treatment purpose. Thus, the foreign object exception to the medical malpractice statute of limitations did not apply to the man's claims against the hospital and doctors.
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the man’s claims.
See: Walton v. Strong Memorial Hosp., 2014 WL 563559, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 01084 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept., February 14, 2014) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, February 2014 Report: Congenital Heart Conditions: How Infants, Adults, and Healthcare Providers Handle the Risks