Endoscope Superbug Lawsuits
Some patients who underwent surgeries in which doctors used a specific duodenoscope were infected by a superbug and later died, prompting lawsuits from surviving family members. The TJF-Q180V scope, made by Olympus, was not approved for use by the FDA.
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Recent infections and deaths linked to deadly “superbug” bacteria at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in California led medical and legal experts as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate what caused the infection to spread. Doctors and officials traced the deadly outbreak to one particular device: A specific duodenoscope, the TJF-Q180V model manufactured by Olympus.
Affected patients who had procedures with the tainted scope – or their survivors – are now filing lawsuits or investigation claims against Olympus.
In the case of this scope, surgery patients t get infected because the scope simply is not clean. And that scope then touches internal tissues. During procedures, doctors insert the flexible scope into through the throat (or in some cases in the anus) so they can diagnose a variety of diseases. For instance, the TJF-Q180V scope was used during gallbladder, bile duct and pancreatic duct procedures.
Medical officials believe possible exposures occurred during surgeries that took place from October 2014 to January 2015. Shortly after the superbugs were discovered, the FDA announced it had never approved the scope in question
In response, Olympus said it had redesigned the scope and did not think it needed FDA approval for the updated product. Since then, the scope maker applied for FDA approval. That application is pending.
Approximately 180 patients may have been infected by the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), commonly referred to as a superbug at UCLA’s large, Los Angles teaching hospital. A superbug is a microorganism that is highly resistant to antibiotics. In the case of CRE, 50 percent of all patient infected usually die.
The scope in question is also linked to other types of deadly bacterial infections, and the full scope of infection across the country is not known.
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Hospitals affected by the outbreak claim they used correct procedures when cleaning the scopes. In a recent safety warning, the FDA said following the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the scopes does not guarantee that they are free of bacteria because the design of the scope makes it difficult to clean.
“Defendant knew, or should have known, that if these residual fluids contain microbial contamination, multiple patients would be exposed to a serious risk of harm, including lethal infection,” one plaintiff alleged.
Lawsuits claim a redesign of the device is to blame for the superbug outbreak. The redesign was supposed to make the scope easier to use. However, the reconfiguration may have made the scopes harder to clean. Despite cleaning the scopes per Olympus’ instructions, bacteria can still survive in the crevices of the device, putting patients at risk. The FDA also revealed that Olympus and two other scope manufacturers – Pentax Medical and Fujifilm – failed to prove the scope could be properly cleaned.
Olympus responded to the first California outbreak by explaining it provided instructions, education and guidance about how to clean its duodenoscopes effectively. It also said its TJF-Q180V model required cleaning technicians to pay careful attention to the steps required for cleaning and reprocessing. However, Olympus never proved the scope could be properly cleaned in any manner.
Along with Olympus, the FDA came under fire for allowing the devices on the market without proof that the devices could be cleaned. Consumer advocates say the FDA is too secretive and protects the industry instead of the public. Even after two failed attempts to meet sterilization requirements, the agency denied granting the scope maker a third attempt.
“This is a real flawed system,” Lisa McGiffert of the Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project told The Los Angeles Times. “It is outrageous that the FDA is giving them a third try to prove these devices can be cleaned properly and the public didn’t know about it till today.”
The FDA declined to recall or order the TJF-1180V duodenoscope withdrawn from the market. Olympus originally put the device on the market in 2010 and never gained FDA approval. The agency cited the more than 500,000 medical procedures done each year using scopes.
“We view Olympus as having made a good-faith effort in complying with the rules,” FDA spokesperson Karen Riley told The Times. “They manufacture a significant number of duodenoscopes so we were concerned that could lead to a potential shortage.”
The first lawsuit was filed on behalf of Aaron Young, an 18-year-old who was infected. Young’s family alleges he was infected during a procedure in October 2014. At the time the lawsuit was filed, he was still hospitalized.
A second claim, a wrongful death lawsuit, was filed on behalf of Antonia Torres Cerda by her family after the 48-year-old woman died in November 2014. Her family claims she was infected with during a liver transplant one month earlier.
Theresa Bigler, of Washington State, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of her husband, Richard Bigler, in King County Superior Court. Bigler was one of 11 patients who died after diagnostic medical procedures at Virginia Mason. The family claims a duodendoscope was used during one or more of those procedures.
Experts expect more lawsuits to be filed as more patients and families are notified of this dangerous superbug and the scope that may have led to their infection or death.
- Aleccia, J. (2015, March 4). Widow sues Virginia Mason; hospital begins notifying ‘superbug’ victims. Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/widow-sues-virginia-mason-hospital-begins-notifying-superbug-victims/
- Associated Press. (2015, February 26). Suits filed against scope maker in superbug infection. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/suit-filed-scope-maker-superbug-infection-29243390
- National Institute of Health. (2014). Endoscope. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002360.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Information about CRE. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/hai/organisms/cre/cre-patientgeneral.html
- Associated Press. (2015, March 5). Redesigned medical scope in “superbug” cases did not get FDA clearance. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/redesigned-medical-scope-in-superbug-cases-did-not-get-fda-clearance/
- Terhune, C. (2015, March 4). Superbug outbreak extends to Cedars-Sinai hospital, linked to scope. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-cedars-sinai-infections-20150304-story.html
- Terhune, C. (2015, March 3). FDA says firms have twice failed to show scopes can be rid of superbugs. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-fda-superbug-scopes-20150303-story.html