Outbreak of Hepatitis C blamed on surgeon
A jury awarded $524 million medical malpractice verdict to three individuals with at least two of the individuals stating that they had received Hepatitis C due to the unsanitary practices of a surgeon. It is claimed that a gastroenterologist reused vials of anesthesia and failed to sterilize equipment. It is also alleged that the practices of this doctor may have caused as many as 50,000 patients to have contracted Hepatitis C as well due to surgical errors.
Though the case was not tried in Pennsylvania, it could well have impact on cases tried here. It was reported that $500 million of the award was for punitive damages, and the remainder was for compensatory damages. As Hepatitis C can potentially be lethal, it is at least understandable why this verdict would be quite large.
We can argue over whether the punitive damages award was exorbitant, but without question medical malpractice did occur if the allegations in this matter were correct. The patients apparently contracted Hepatitis C after routine colonoscopies were performed, and thousands of other individuals were placed at risk.
The Health Plan of Nevada plans on appealing the matter and stated that it should not be held responsible for “the criminal conduct of independent doctors.” An attorney that represents patients in these kinds of cases, on the other hand, implied that insurance companies too often send patients to doctors that bill the least without taking into consideration the possible consequences of such a business strategy.
It must be kept in mind that the two individuals have not yet collected any money yet regarding this verdict, and any award could be reduced or even eliminated upon appeal. But health plans nevertheless need to be held accountable if these plans insist on referring patients to particular doctors.
- Bloomberg, “UnitedHealth to Pay $500 Million Over Hepatitis Doctor,” by Valerie Miller & Jef Feeley, April 10, 2013
- ABA Journal, “Jury awards record $524M in Hep C case; lawyer calls verdict a wake-up call to health insurers,” by Marha Neill, April 10, 2013