Hepatitis Outbreak Tied to Technician's Used Needles; Medical Malpractice Suits May Result | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Mere months after cases of hepatitis C were tracked to the improper sterilization of equipment used in colonoscopies at a Miami, Florida (FL), Veterans hospital, another incident in which a health care nurse has exposed patients to the potentially fatal liver disease is making national headlines. Whether patients now suffering hepatitis C will bring malpractice suits against the hospital is unclear as news of the improper, criminal behavior has just broken.

Kristen Diane Parker, a 26-year-old surgical technician/nurse, has admitted that she replaced sterile fentanyl-filled syringes with used saline-filled ones in operating room medicine trays. Parker has a history of painkiller abuse and may have contracted hepatitis C while injecting heroin.

As many as 10,000 patients where Parker worked may have been exposed to contaminated needles. Nine cases of hepatitis C have been found among patients treated at Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center, but it is unclear right now whether the cases track back to Parker. Patients at Rose Medical Center are also being tested.

Hospitals and medical centers can be held responsible for medical malpractice if one its technicians intentionally exposes patients to injury, disease or risk of death. Employers must take reasonable steps to monitor and supervise staff. Here, if an injury or death to a former patient occurs, an injury attorney would argue that the hospital did not properly hire, retain or supervise Parker in a medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, when malpractice occurs in a surgical setting or operating room, the surgeon is called “the captain of the ship” and often has liability for those acting under his or her direction. Hospitals must also supervise their staff and ensure that staff follows medical standards and rules.

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