Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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Court allows civil suit in hepatitis C outbreak to proceed

The Nevada Supreme Court has lifted a stay allowing a civil suit to go forward against medical companies accused of distributing a defective product in connection with the outbreak of hepatitis C in Las Vegas.

The two cases have been held up to decide conflicting rulings in the district courts over allowing expert testimony about whether dirty instruments or cleaning fluids caused the outbreak at the Endoscopy Clinic of Southern Nevada. The former owner of that clinic, Dr. Dipak Desai, is under indictment in connection with the outbreak, which came to light in 2008.

The decision by the court represented a preliminary victory for those suing Sicor Inc., Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc., Baxter HealthCare Corp. and McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.

The litigants claim defective vials of the anesthetic propofol caused the illness. They claim the size of the vials of the drug the companies distributed lent themselves to be reused and contaminated.

The companies’ witnesses included nurse David Hambrick, who has extensive experience in cleaning and disinfecting the type of equipment used during an endoscopy procedure. Hambrick suggested the cause may have been improper cleaning and sterilization of equipment used at the Las Vegas clinic.

But the court ruled that Hambrick “does not possess the requisite skill, knowledge or experience to testify as an expert witness regarding the medical cause of hepatitis C transmission at the Endoscopy Clinic of Southern Nevada.”

Justice James Hardesty wrote in the decision that District Court “abused its discretion when it allowed an unqualified nurse to offer expert testimony regarding medical causation.”

But the court also said District Judge Timothy Williams was wrong when he precluded the same nurse from offering any expert testimony within the area of his specialty but not to the cause of the outbreak.

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