Pennsylvania Hospital Failure to Clean Surgical Instruments Lawsuit
The first such case takes us down to Texas and the case of Brian Jacobs v. United Surgical Partners International Inc., d/b/a Corpus Christi Outpatient Surgical Center. This medical malpractice lawsuit and trial concerned Mr. Jacobs’, the plaintiff, claims that surgical instruments used upon him had not been sterilized before his operation
On Jan. 10, 2007, plaintiff Brian Jacobs, 38, an aircraft sheet metal inspector for the Army, underwent arthroscopic repair of a torn rotator cuff at Corpus Christi Outpatient Surgical Center. After the procedure, Jacobs learned that the instruments used on him had not been sterilized.
Jacobs sued United Surgical Partners International Inc., operating as Corpus Christi Outpatient Surgical Center, for failing to sterilize the instruments. A technician had put them in the autoclave, with a tag that changes color when heated to a certain temperature. The technician failed to start the autoclave and failed to notice that the tag did not change color. As is common in these cases (because the plaintiff is usually notified of the issue by the offending hospital) the defense stipulated to liability the Friday before trial.
By the end of the operation, the facility learned of its mistake and notified the surgeon. The surgeon notified Jacobs in the recovery room and then put him under again to perform a debridement with sterilized instruments.
Jacobs had to stay on antibiotics for two weeks and undergo testing for hepatitis C and HIV for 12 months. He testified that he was afraid not only of getting sick himself but of infecting his wife and children. He did not develop an infection.
The facility performed an investigation which confirmed that, before this surgery, the instruments had not been used on anyone who had a communicable disease. Jacobs said he was not given this information until trial, although the facility had the information when it called him the day after the surgery and asked how he was.
The facility did not charge him for the tests, except the last one, which cost $140.
Jacobs sought $365,000 for past mental anguish, about $25,000 for past physical pain and future mental anguish combined, and $140 for past medical bills.
The surgeon, though part owner of the facility, testified for Jacobs. It is always nice to see people standing up to do the right thing.
At trial, the court ruled that Jacobs could recover for his fear of exposure to communicable diseases even though he was not actually exposed to any.
According to the defense, Jacobs' wife acknowledged that the facility notified her on the day of surgery that the instruments had not been used on anyone with a communicable disease. The defense argued that Jacobs himself was told five days later. The trial lasted two days and the deliberation took only and hour with the jury returning a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $200,140 broken down as follows $140 Past Medical Costs, $5,000 past physical pain, $193,000 past mental anguish, $2,000 future mental anguish.
Pennsylvania, unfortunately, does not recognize a civil claim for fear of contracting a disease. But that does not deprive Pennsylvania residents from seeking compensation for the inconvenience, pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment for having to undergo repeat blood tests to determine whether they contracted a blood borne disease. And while a plaintiff may not be able to officially claim damages for the fear of contracting a disease like HIV or Hepatitis, one would assume that most jurors will naturally understand how shocking the ordeal would have been.
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