Exeter Hospital Challenges Partial Dismissal of 2012 HCV Outbreak Lawsuit

What Happened?

In 2012, a traveling medical technician named David Kwiatkowski was involved in a massive hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. As a traveling employee, Kwiatkowski was barely known by Exeter staff or the staff of other medical facilities where he had previously worked. No one saw a concern with his work at the time; however a later review of his work history showed consistent problems. Although he claimed he was innocent, in late 2013, he was convicted of causing the outbreak, which led to positive hepatitis C results in 46 patients as well as exposure to the virus by countless others. Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years in prison for his crime.

However, although that brought a sense of justice for patients who were directly impacted by Kwiatkowski, there were numerous questions remaining on a grander scale; largely rooted in whose fault it was that Kwiatkowski was employed at Exeter Hospital in the first place, as later reviews of his employment history showed numerous major issues and problems. Some blamed Exeter Hospital, who blamed the staffing company, Triage Staffing, which provides traveling medical technicians to hospitals. Each claimed the other should have seen the concerns in Kwiatkowski’s file and each believed that they should be considered a victim to the crime as well.

Exeter Hospital found itself struggling with pending lawsuits of numerous patients and their families, including people who were never infected with hepatitis C but who felt they deserved compensation for the emotional distress of the experience of being put at risk. In all, the hospital gave settlements to 188 people. Following those settlements, Exeter Hospital sued American Healthcare Services Association as well as Triage Staffing. The hospital’s goal was to be reimbursed for the settlement amounts since they believe that it was not their fault that their hospital was put in this situation. However, US District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled that Exeter Hospital could not recoup the money because the hospital could not prove that those 188 patients had been truly at risk of infection or that the patients had experienced specific emotional distress. In short, it means that the judge ruled that, though the hospital was free to make any settlement with anyone it wanted, the patients had no actual measurable damages, thus no one else could be forced to pay for said damages.

Why Is the Hospital Challenging the Partial Dismissal?

A month later, hospital attorneys went back to court. They claimed that the hospital was forced to agree to those settlements in order to avoid potentially higher payouts if each of the patients had decided to file court cases and sue for much higher amounts.

What Happens Next?

Currently, the case remains open and it is possible that the hospital will be able to be reimbursed for some or all of the money it paid out to the 188 patients who tested negative and to 33 patients who sued after testing positive for hepatitis C. In addition, Exeter Hospital has also filed a lawsuit against Kwiatkowski and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. The cases all remain open and the hospital is hoping that winning these cases will result in being able to make up for their financial losses due to the settlements given to those who experienced the hepatitis C outbreak at their hospital.

Why Does This Matter?

When considering the specifics of this case, it is important to the hospital to find out what happened that led to the process of countless patients being exposed to the hepatitis C virus. Finding the answer to this not only allows the true culprits to be held financially responsible, it also allows the hospital to figure out exactly where their staffing system broke down. This will allow them to review all staffing protocols and to make corrections where there are errors found.

On a grander scale, this trial matters because it speaks to the experience of patients in hospital settings. As witnessed in this specific situation, the patients were exposed to someone who should not have been working, through no fault of their own and without reason to distrust this employee. Medical personnel should always be made aware that their mistakes and poor choices have consequences and that only those who consistently earn the right to interact with patients be able to do so. This helps to reinforce the medical profession at every level of employment. In addition and more importantly, it is vital that patients feel safe and comfortable in medical settings and that they see breaches in this sense of security as outcomes which lead to changes in protocols and safer results for everyone involved, rather than as a reason to fear medical treatment or to postpone obtaining medical treatment.1-5

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