Patient Infected With Hepatitis C by New York Heart Surgeon Suing for Punitive Damages
A lawsuit is expected to be filed today by a former patient of Dr. Michael Hall, the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Manhasset, N.Y.-based North Shore University Hospital, alleging that the physician was "negligen[t]" and had a "reckless disregard for human life" when he operated on patients while infected with hepatitis C, Newsday reports. The lawsuit is the first to name Hall, who is thought to have infected at least three of his patients with hepatitis C, and is brought by Joseph Carco, one of Hall's patients who tested positive for the disease in February 2001, three months after receiving heart valve replacement surgery. Carco plans to file the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, N.Y., Newsday reports. The lawsuit alleges that both Hall and the hospital should have known that Hall was infected with hepatitis C, and it asks the court to award an unspecified amount of punitive damages. "All I want is for them to stop hurting people, so no one has to go through what I'm going through," Carco, who has undergone a year-long regimen of "powerful and toxic drug therapies" to treat his disease, said. Carco is one of three patients whose hepatitis C virus samples were found to be "almost perfect genetic matches" with Hall's virus when tested by the CDC (Rabin, Newsday, 4/12). According to investigators from the New York state Department of Health, Hall could be responsible for infecting four additional patients with hepatitis C during surgeries over the last nine years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/28). Hospital officials maintain that Hall did not know he was infected with hepatitis C until last August, when he underwent a voluntary test for the virus. Hall continues to perform surgeries but under state recommendations is expected to "clearly inform" his patients of his infection and to modify his surgical technique to minimize the risk of transmission (Newsday, 4/12).
In an accompanying article, Newsday reports that New York state regulations do not require hospitals to test their surgeons for hepatitis C and prohibit mandatory testing for HIV. In addition, the CDC does not recommend periodic screening of health care workers for bloodborne pathogens or limiting their professional lives because of infection. New York state regulations contend that requiring health care workers to inform their patients and their employers that they are infected "would only serve as a deterrent" to testing and would "endanger the professional careers of competent and needed health care personnel who pose no risk to patients." Health care workers in New York state are required to report needle sticks and other possible exposure events and must wear gloves and use universal precautions to prevent disease transmission (Rabin, Newsday, 4/12).