New Hampshire Hospital May Face Class Action Lawsuit Over Handling of Hep C Outbreak

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A New Hampshire lawyer is moving forward with plans for a class action suit against Exeter Hospital, which employed a temporary radiology tech now facing criminal charges for stealing pain-killer injections and replacing them with Hepatitis C-contaminated needles filled with saline.

The attorney, Peter McGrath, said at a press conference last week that the client list for the suit has grown to 169 people, 11 of which have tested positive for Hepatitis C. The three clients that spoke with him at the press conference indicated that for them the suit was as much about how they were treated after the outbreak was discovered as it was about whether the outbreak could have been prevented by the hospital.

At the center of the case is David Kwiatkowski, a 33-year-old man currently facing Federal charges for stealing drugs and being the cause of the outbreak at Exeter Hospital. An indictment is due November 30. By moving from one hospital to another and often switching states, he allegedly was able to hide his addiction and continue working as a radiology tech for years before he was finally arrested in Massachusetts. He is suspected of causing Hepatitis C infection in patients at as many as a dozen hospitals in eight different states.

In a WMUR News clip, the mother of a 5-year-old former Exeter Hospital patient who was tested and found to be negative for Hepatitis C, says "I can't explain how many countless nights I've stayed awake ever since she tested negative, wondering what her future might hold."

Exeter Hospital has worked with the state public health department to notify patients and hold testing clinics for the more than 3,000 people who might have been exposed to Hepatitis C during Kwiatkowski’s time working at the hospital. In a statement, the hospital said is was “surprised” by the lawsuit and has offered testing and treatment to all affected, including McGrath's clients who have tested positive to a different strain of Hep C than that carried by Kwiatkowski. The hospital president and CEO, Kevin J. Callahan, also sent a personal letter to patients.

However, McGrath’s clients pointed to a lack of information and support when news of the outbreak first came out and one said that the letter from Callahan came too late, according to the Concord Monitor.

Under New Hampshire state law, a class action lawsuit must be certified as such by a judge and be reviewed by a special screening panel for malpractice cases in order to proceed. However, even if it is not certified, it may not be the end of Exeter Hospital's troubles.

“Even if the class-action is not certified, the situation we’re in is, we have 169 clients that are ready to file suit if necessary, and there will probably be a lot more,” McGrath said according to the Union Leader.