Local News

Hearing held in tainted surgical instruments case

Posted November 22, 2010 6:25 a.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2010 11:32 p.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge on Monday said he needed more time to consider issues argued during a hearing regarding a lawsuit over surgical instruments washed in hydraulic fluid six years ago.

Dozens of patients of Durham Regional and Duke Health Raleigh hospitals have claimed to suffer from health problems ranging from infections to immune system reactions after the exposure.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed since then by some of the approximately 3,800 surgical patients who were exposed to the tainted instruments.

Much of Monday’s hearing had to do with whether plaintiffs suing Duke University Health System and two other companies have valid complaints.

Judge Robert C. Ervin has already dismissed the claims of five people who were initially part of the lawsuit, and another person voluntarily withdrew.

Duke wants those people to pay for legal costs, saying they were advised through attorneys that they were not affected by the instruments.

Attorneys for the patients disagreed, saying that even if the patients weren’t exposed, many of them received letters about the situation and worried about possible exposure.

Duke says it was up to people after they got the letters to contact their doctors to ask if they were exposed.

The patients' attorneys disagree.

They also say Duke hasn't turned over enough evidence about tests done about the harm of hydraulic fluid and how much of it was on the equipment.

The mix-up began after fluid had been drained from hospital elevators, put in empty detergent drums and then mistakenly shipped back to the hospitals.

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, according to federal court documents.

Automatic Elevator Co. Inc. settled all claims against it for $1 million, while claims were 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, had 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.