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Duke tangles with insurer over tainted surgical instruments settlement

Posted October 13, 2010

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— The mix-up that led to thousands of patients being exposed to hydraulic fluid on surgical instruments six years ago has resulted in a $26 million settlement from Duke University Health System, according to federal court documents.

Yet, the legal battle over whether others should pick up part of the tab continues.

About 3,800 surgical patients at Durham Regional Hospital and Duke Health Raleigh Hospital were exposed to instruments that had been washed with used hydraulic fluid. The fluid had been drained from hospital elevators and put in empty detergent drums, then was mistakenly shipped back to the hospitals.

Dozens of patients said they suffered health problems ranging from infections to immune system reactions after the exposure.

Duke Health officials maintained the instruments were safe because they were sterilized after being washed in the hydraulic fluid, but they settled in May 2008 with 127 patients for $26 million.

Automatic Elevator Co. Inc. settled all claims against it for $1 million, while claims are pending against Cardinal Health Inc., which shipped the drums of hydraulic fluid back to the hospitals.

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. of America, which provided a liability policy to Automatic Elevator, has a pending federal lawsuit in which it wants a judge to rule that Mitsui and Automatic Elevator don't have to pay Duke for part of its settlement.

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