Hepatitis C Lawsuit Faults Pennsylvania Hospital

An emerging hepatitis C lawsuit faults a Pennsylvania hospital for the dangerous disease that has been linked to the actions of one lab technician. Hepatitis C is a viral liver disease that can cause inflammation of the liver and can lead to chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, or cancer of the liver. The virus is spread by contact with infected body fluids; no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, which can be fatal.

Now, a Kansas woman alleges she became infected with the dangerous disease because of a former lab technician who has since been accused of stealing drugs, said the Associated Press (AP). Linda Ficken filed the lawsuit yesterday against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), saying the facility was negligent for not telling law enforcement or any government agency that its technician, David Kwiatkowski, allegedly stole and used narcotics in 2008. Kwiatkowski worked at a number of other hospitals, including a facility in Kansas, where Ficken was treated in 2010, said the AP.

According to the lawsuit, Ficken recently tested positive for hepatitis C, the AP wrote. UPMC spokeswoman, Gloria Kreps, declined the AP’s request for comment on the pending litigation, but has said, “We noticed unusual behavior, caught him with a syringe, but did not witness him in the act of committing a crime,”  Meanwhile, Kwiatkowski faces federal drug charges in New Hampshire and has pleaded not guilty to drug theft and needle tampering.

Ficken, 70, was treated at Hays Medical Center in Kansas, to receive a pacemaker. She is one of three patients diagnosed with a strain of the hepatitis virus that is closely related to the strain carried by Kwiatkowski, said the Kansas health department, wrote the AP. Ficken told the news outlet that, “He put me and my family in jeopardy, he put a lot of people in jeopardy and this is just going to continue to mushroom. Somebody fell down on the job someplace. He didn’t slip through the cracks on his own.” Ficken’s husband, noted the AP, is suing UPMC and two temporary staffing agencies.

“What would have been reasonable for Pittsburgh to do?” questioned Maxwell Mehlman, Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western University in Cleveland, wrote the AP. Typically, negligence cases concern what doctors did and did not do for a patient under their care, noted Mehlman. While one is liable for failing to warn about potential harm, the rule applies to “an identifiable victim,” Mehlman explained to the AP. In this case, UPMC would have had no way of knowing that Ficken was being treated in another state. But, UPMC has said that when Kwiatkowski was accused of stealing fentanyl, police were not advised because hospital officials did not think they had sufficient evidence. “Cases like this are likely to stimulate an interest in broader reporting requirements,” Mehlman said.

Meanwhile, we recently wrote that Kwiatkowski was charged in a New Hampshire hepatitis C outbreak linked to Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Unit. Dozens of patients there were infected with the dangerous virus and led to an investigation by state health regulators that was initiated at Exeter Hospital in June. Former hospital technician, Kwiatkowski, 33, was accused of stealing drugs from the lab and infecting 31 patients with contaminated syringes. Kwiatkowski, who is also infected, was previously a traveling medical technician, having worked in at least 18 hospitals in eight states. Fired on May 25, Kwiatkowski faces a 20-year prison sentence for drug tampering and up to four years for the controlled substance charge.

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