State News

Duke Health settles claims from elevator-fluid lawsuit

Posted June 19, 2008

— Duke University Health System has settled claims by patients who alleged they suffered health problems after being exposed to hydraulic fluid on surgical instruments at two Duke hospitals in 2004.

The confidential settlement resolved claims against Duke by an unknown number of clients.

Meanwhile, dozens of patients exposed to the hydraulic fluid at Durham Regional and Duke Raleigh hospitals have sued the companies that contracted with Duke to sterilize the equipment.

The lawsuit said the plaintiffs were patients of Durham Regional or Duke Raleigh hospitals in late 2004, when more than 3,600 patients were operated on with instruments mistakenly cleaned with used hydraulic fluid.

The fluid had been drained from an elevator, but sent back to the hospitals for use as detergent.

Duke and HensonFuerst, the law firm representing the patients, released the following statement Thursday:

"HensonFuerst and Duke University Health Systems have resolved and settled without resort to litigation all claims involving HensonFuerst clients against Duke University Health Systems and its constituent hospitals arising out of the Hydraulic Fluid incident which occurred in 2004. Specific terms are confidential based on mutual agreement by both parties."


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  • Pharmboy Jun 20, 2008

    As for the hydraulic fluid causing problems, well as a scientist, it would be hard to prove. Only way is to monitor those possibly affected and compare them to a control group to see if random incidence of illness (or any specifics) is greater. By that time, the damage is done. Not only that, confounders like someone smoking or predisposition can have more of an affect. So let me stick some gauzes rinsed with motor oil in your abdomen. You may survive without any long term problems, but the time for recovery could be longer, more painful and more time in the ICU. Maybe the scar is larger or a patient has prolonged GI pain. All of these are typical complications, but how do you know if it is due to the fluid, chance, or poor surgery? I love how you believe Duke is made of Teflon but others associated with them are terrible. Everyone makes mistakes, some face up to it.

  • Pharmboy Jun 20, 2008

    Sean, It is hardly wise to just blame the organ matching organization. So you are stating that the medical staff should blindedly take an organ and stuff it into someone? Checks and balances man! Someone in organ transplant team should always validate the HLA and other matching in such a high risk procedure.

  • seankelly15 Jun 19, 2008

    "PharmaLink-FHI, a Durham-based private health research firm hired by Duke Health, reported in a new study that almost 90 percent of the exposed patients had no major clinical problems in the past two years. Another 8.6 percent had been hospitalized since their exposure, while 2.5 percent reported an infection and 1.8 percent had died.

    The average time between exposure and subsequent hospitalization was more than six months, according to the report. Likewise, patients who developed infections did so several months after exposure, the report stated, concluding that no correlation could be made between the two events.

    "When compared with expected medical outcome rates, the PharmaLink-FHI registry did not identify any rates that were increased above those expected of a general or similar patient population," the report stated."

    I still maintain that the only group that received money for this lawsuit was HensonFuerst.

  • seankelly15 Jun 19, 2008

    Pharmboy - No evidence of harm was presented - only anecdotal accounts about illnesses that did not occur until the patients were contacted by HensonFeurst. Please provide one shred of evidence that DUHS harmed these poeple.

  • seankelly15 Jun 19, 2008

    tiblet - The Santillan case was a tissue-typing error that was linked to the organ procurement organization - not DUHS. I know nothing about your relative, but apparently the care was adequate but they had a complaint about the bill. And, finally you have a friend who is a nurse who has made comments about her employer. I don't see any 'screw-ups' here or 'black eyes' as you called them.

  • suthernbelle Jun 19, 2008

    That's interesting Think...I was operated on during the time period, had complications and have ongoing problems today that my doctor thinks were caused by this. Henson & Fuerst had a doctor exam done (that I had to pay $150 for about a 15 minute consult) and told me they could not directly tie my problems to the incident and I could not be a part of the law suit. Meanwhile I continue to have problems and doctor visits/meds to pay for....

  • Pharmboy Jun 19, 2008

    I don't think this is gold-digging. Duke health and associates really screwed up. This situation put patients in harms way. Whether harm is done or not is very difficult to prove and may be years before any ramification or problems arise.

    Having said that, Duke performs many high risk procedures and quality care for many who would have less of a survival chance anywhere else. Why would Ted Kennedy come down to Duke when he could go anywhere else?

    Duke Hospital seems to have issues with letting things slip, such as typing the wrong organ, a clinical study related death, and so on. These mess-ups should not happen. It does happen because sets of people make a mistake and assume wrongly. There should be checks and balances, eat Duke employee checking/reviewing others around them. When this break in care occurs, then it is Duke's fault. I hope they learn and heal others instead of harming them.

  • Think_About_This Jun 19, 2008

    I work with one of the claimants and she was told by HensonFuerst that just because she was operated on during the specific timeframe and she received a letter from Duke, that she could/should be part of the suit. It did NOT matter if she had even one side effect from the instruments/hydraulic fluid. She has now received her payment from Duke (a few weeks ago actually) and is expecting her payment from Cardinal any day.

    What a pathetic use of our justice system. . .

  • didyouhearme Jun 19, 2008

    I found this. It's an eye opener about what really happened!
    I wouldn't want it in MY body!

  • Ashen-Shugar Jun 19, 2008

    A lot of blame for this falls on Cardinal Healthcare, they are the company that picked up the hydraulic fluid in their "empty" barrels to begin with. As suppliers of medical equipment they should have not mixed these barrels in with other ones.

    It would also make you wonder about their policies, where company people can go get "full" barrels from clients and then sell them right back to the client.

    Something seems terribly wrong with that picture, makes you wonder what else that company is willing to do to make a buck at the risk of someone else's life. Next time it may be something worse, something that causes the loss of life.