Nebraska Insurance Department Malpractice Fund Could Be Depleted Due to Hepatitis C Outbreak Lawsuits
The Nebraska Department of Insurance has asked a Lancaster County district judge to require malpractice insurer Medical Protective of Fort Wayne, Ind., to defend the more than 80 lawsuits filed against Dr. Tahir Javed, who state officials say is responsible for a "massive" hepatitis C outbreak at a Freemont, Neb., clinic, the AP/Omaha World-Herald reports (AP/Omaha World-Herald, 10/9). State officials earlier this month revoked Javed's medical license after nearly 100 people were infected with hepatitis C, which can cause severe liver damage. One patient has died due to the infection. Clinic officials discovered the outbreak in October 2002, and the clinic was officially closed within one month. Health officials speculated that the infections may have occurred when a worker at the clinic, which specializes in chemotherapy and hematology, reused a contaminated needle and syringe to treat several people. Another possibility is that a worker used a contaminated needle to draw medication, thereby polluting the vial. Health officials sent letters to 612 patients who had received treatment between March 2000 and December 2001 advising them to get tested for hepatitis C (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/3).
If Medical Protective -- Javed's malpractice insurer -- does not settle all 81 of the lawsuits collectively, state officials have expressed concern that the state's $55 million medical malpractice fund, which doctors in the state pay into each year to reduce malpractice insurance costs, could be depleted. According to court papers, Javed's malpractice insurance policy set a $200,000 limit on individual claims and a $600,000 annual aggregate; however, the state says that the policy contains a provision that would increase to $7 million the total amount the insurer could be required to pay. Medical Protective officials declined to comment on the case, according to the AP/World-Herald. Excluding the Javed claims, the state expects to pay approximately $46 million from its $55 million malpractice insurance fund to settle pending claims. According to Tim Wagner, head of the Department of Insurance, if the Javed case depletes the state's malpractice fund, the 3,100 doctors who currently pay into the fund will be required to pay the remaining claims, which could total tens of millions of dollars, according to the AP/World-Herald (AP/Omaha World-Herald, 10/9).