Appeals Court Reinstates Hepatitis C Lawsuits

     (CN) — A Pittsburgh hospital accused of not reporting an employee’s criminal drug use must face lawsuits from patients he went on to infect in a Kansas hospital, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled.
     In a 2-1 decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court on Thursday reinstated four lawsuits from six plaintiffs who were infected with Hepatitis C by a drug-addicted technician at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kansas.
     According to court records, David Kwiatkowski worked as a radiology technician at defendant UPMC Presbyterian in 2008 before being fired for injecting himself with opiates, refilling the tainted syringes with saline, and restocking them back into the hospital supply room.
     Neither UPMC nor the staffing agency that placed him there, Maxim Healthcare Services, reported him to authorities or notified the Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the plaintiffs.
     The plaintiffs argue UPMC and Maxim “knew or should have known that medical staff such as Kwiatkowski, without intervention, would continue to engage in conduct, including theft of controlled substances in order to satisfy” his addiction.
     It was this failure, they allege, that allowed Kwiatkowski to go on to work at eight other hospitals, creating a multi-state Hepatitis C outbreak before his arrest in New Hampshire in 2012.
     Thursday’s ruling reversed an earlier decision from the Allegheny County Court of Common Please that had tossed the cases after determining UPMC and Maxim only owed a duty of care to its own patients, not plaintiffs.
     In reinstating the duty-to-report claim, Superior Court Judge Mary Jane Bowes, joined by Judge Sallie Updyke Mundy, noted, “There was a special relationship between Kwiatkowski and UPMC and Maxim when the alleged duty to report arose, i.e., when Kwiatkowski’s theft and substitution of controlled substances were exposed. Additionally, UPMC and Maxim knew that Kwiatkowski’s addiction, diversion, and substitution of drugs presented a danger to patients at facilities where he worked, not just UPMC’s patients.”
     The judges agreed however, with the trial court’s dismissal of a negligence claim against defendants.
     UPMC responded to the ruling in a statement.
     “This ruling ignores the clear facts that upon learning of his diversion we immediately removed him from practice at UPMC, had him drug tested, notified his employer, and reported the diversion to the Attorney General’s office,” the hospital said.
     Kwiatkowski was sentenced in 2013 to 39 years behind bars for charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining controlled substances by fraud.

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