A 70-year-old Florida Air Force veteran had a colonoscopy in 2007 at the Miami Veterans Administration Medical Center (“V.A. Medical Center”). He had been tested for hepatitis C in 2006 that was reported as negative. But in 2009, after receiving a letter from the V.A. stating that he had been exposed to a “potential health risk” because of the medical equipment used during his colonoscopy in 2006, he was tested again within days of receiving the V.A. letter and he was found to be infected with the deadly hepatitis C virus .
The veteran and his wife brought a federal medical malpractice claim against the U.S. government seeking a combined $30 million in damages, alleging that the man had contracted hepatitis C from the medical equipment used during his colonoscopy that was not properly sterilized. On November 21, 2012, after a non-jury medical malpractice trial, the presiding U.S. District Court judge found that the medical staff at the V.A. Medical Center failed to properly clean the medical equipment used during the veteran’s colonoscopy in 2007 and that such failure probably caused the man to become infected with the virus that caused him to develop hepatitis C.
The Veterans Administration conducted an investigation that determined that more than 11,000 veterans had been given colonoscopies between 2004 and 2009 at V.A. medical centers in Miami, Florida, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Augusta, Georgia with colonoscopy equipment that was not properly sterilized by using steam and chemicals as instructed by the manufacturer but instead were simply rinsed with water. The V.A. investigators found “discolored liquid and debris” within some of the colonoscopy equipment that they inspected.
Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the U.S. government was the named defendant in the medical malpractice case. The U.S. government was represented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which presented medical testimony from its medical expert who stated that the veteran had “a less than 0% chance” of having contracted hepatitis C from his colonoscopy in 2007 at the V..A. Medical Center, but the federal judge did not accept his testimony: the federal judge determined that the veteran did not have any other risk factors for becoming infected with hepatitis C.
In his written opinion after the conclusion of the federal medical malpractice trial, the U.S. District Court judge wrote, “I realize that the chances of acquiring hepatitis C under these circumstances is slight. But I find that there is nothing to preclude [the veteran] from being one of those two persons in a trillion or billion who do get the virus.” The federal judge awarded $1.25 million to the veteran and his wife.
If you or a loved one may be the victim of medical malpractice that occurred at a Veterans Administration medical center or at another federal facility, you may have certain rights to seek compensation from the U.S. government for your injuries and losses; however, the federal tort claims process is tedious, precise, and subject to strict claim procedures and time constraints. It is imperative that you promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney who is experienced in federal tort claim actions to learn about your rights and responsibilities in the matter.
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