Local News

Duke University Named In Lawsuit Over Surgical Instruments

Posted July 16, 2006 12:44 p.m. EDT

— A man who says his surgery with instruments washed in used hydraulic fluid left him with fevers and fatigue on Thursday sued Duke University Health System over the incident.

The lawsuit in Durham Superior Court came more than 1½ years after university medical officials admitted that a mistake in a Raleigh hospital it owns resulted in thousands of patients being exposed.

The instruments were washed in used elevator hydraulic fluid that was drained into empty soap containers and later reshipped to the hospital when it ordered more soap for instrument washing machines. About 3,800 patients had surgery during November and December 2004 when the fluid was used in the machines.

Bennie W. Holland. Jr. of Coats said in the lawsuit that he developed an infection after back surgery on Nov. 10, 2004, at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital. He said he since has had fevers, muscle aches and fatigue.

Holland's lawsuit said Duke was negligent by allowing the empty soap containers to be used to dispose of the fluid and in not acting quickly when operating room personnel complained that instruments were slippery.

Holland's lawyer, Brent Adams, said his client's health has continued to deteriorate and he hasn't been able to go back to his construction job.

Duke said in a statement that it wouldn't comment specifically on Holland's claim.

"The evidence we've seen to date suggest this low exposure was not harmful to our patients," the medical system said. "We regret this incident occurred, but stand by the results of independent studies and our own analysis."

Duke has established a telephone hot line and a Web site for the affected patients. It also has let the patients consult Duke doctors at no charge to discuss symptoms.

Some patients have said they don't trust Duke.