DC Health Lab Assailed on Zika Testing Gaffes

WASHINGTON (CN) – Cassandra Forrester was just a couple of months pregnant when she received a notice from the Washington, D.C., public health lab in October 2016 saying she had tested negative for the Zika virus.

What Forrester didn’t know at the time was the city’s lab had mishandled hundreds of samples it tested for the virus, which can cause birth defects in the fetuses of women who contract it. It wasn’t until March 2017, one month before her due date, that she learned her Zika test results had been positive.

Represented by Hansel Law, Forrester and her husband brought a lawsuit on May 16 that says the District of Columbia was negligent in mishandling the samples and failing to notify patients quickly of the botched tests.

“The defendants owed a special duty to plaintiffs, which was greater than that which is owed to the general public, as a special relationship existed between plaintiffs and defendants as defendants provided healthcare services to the plaintiffs,” the 19-page complaint in D.C. Superior Court states.

From employees committing “basic arithmetic error” to using a diluted solution during testing, Forrester claims there were “multiple errors” in the testing process at the city’s lab between July 14, 2016, and Dec. 14, 2016.

“Hundreds of women took action based upon the false results that they were provided, many of whom didn’t receive accurate reports until nearly six months later when the Center [sic] for Disease Control (CDC) retested the specimens,” the complaint states.

Officials first found the errors in December 2017 and the city publicly acknowledged the mistake in February 2017, resubmitting 409 samples for testing by the CDC and other approved labs. Forrester says she was not contacted about her new results until that March, leading her to rush to doctors who could give her advice before going into labor a month later.

The Forresters’ daughter had to submit to testing immediately after she was delivered and now requires “continuous” monitoring for microcephaly, the Zika-linked condition that causes children to develop abnormally small heads, according to the complaint.

Furthermore, Forrester claims the city has told her it does not have any records that she ever submitted to testing.

Residents of nearby Germantown, Md., the Forresters seek damages for medical negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent misrepresentation.

Cary J. Hansel III, the Baltimore attorney who filed the suit, said he hopes other people will come forward either as witnesses or new plaintiffs, even if their diagnoses did not change with retesting.

“Frankly, that is only a small part of the damages because even someone who tested negative and actually was negative still had to go through the agony of learning that their negative test was incorrect during a pregnancy,” Hansel said in an interview.

A spokesman for the District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the suit, citing department policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

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