July 1, 2008

18 Patients Sue Duke Over Washed Instruments

By The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jul. 1--Eighteen patients who had operations at Duke hospitals in 2004 sued Duke University Health System on Monday, charging that it committed fraud and negligence in connection with the patients' exposure to surgical instruments mistakenly washed in elevator hydraulic fluid.

The suit, filed in Durham County Superior Court by Raleigh lawyer Henry Temple, asks that Duke and other defendants pay an undisclosed amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

The plaintiffs are among more than 3,600 patients of Durham Regional or Duke Raleigh hospitals who were operated on with the tainted surgical tools in November and December 2004. A series of errors led to the mix-up, which occurred when repairmen drained the elevator fluid into empty detergent drums. It was then mistakenly shipped back to the hospitals as washing fluid.

Duke recently settled claims by more than 60 additional patients who said they had been harmed by the hydraulic fluid. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The defendants allege that since the incident, they have suffered injuries and pain. Their complaints followed surgeries including hysterectomy, hemorrhoid removal, appendectomy, breast biopsy, circumcision and removal of varicose veins.

The patients also allege fraud, charging that Duke tried to conceal some facts and misrepresent others in ways that made it harder for patients and doctors to deal with any effects of the exposure to fluid.

Duke denied the charge, saying it had acted responsibly.

Hospital officials cited tests it conducted, which it said showed the instruments were sterile and that microscopic concentrations of fluid that remained on the tools posed no risk to patients.


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