Class-action lawsuit follows Goshen Hospital letter to patients

Elkhart Truth file photo

GOSHEN — A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Goshen Hospital on behalf of the more than 1,000 patients who may have been exposed to deadly infections.

The suit was filed Friday on behalf of patient Linda Gierek and others who had surgery between April and September and were potentially exposed to hepatitis C, hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus. The hospital recently alerted patients who underwent surgery in that period that one step in the sterilization process wasn’t completed for certain instruments, potentially exposing 1,182 patients to hepatitis and HIV.

The surgical instruments were treated with other chemical disinfectants and with machine sterilization, but it couldn’t be determined if they were completely sterile before use, according to the hospital’s Nov. 18 statement. Health officials called the risk of infection “extremely low,” but said that out of caution, the hospital would offer patients free testing for those viruses.

Gierek says in her lawsuit that she had surgery on June 24 and, because of the hospital’s failure to properly sterilize its equipment, she “may have been exposed to innumerable infectious diseases, many of which could be incurable and/or fatal.” She filed the lawsuit in Elkhart County Superior Court 2 on behalf of herself and other patients who were potentially exposed.

She says learning of the potential exposure has caused her “extreme emotional distress and trauma,” which will be ongoing for years. She says she will also incur medical testing and other expenses for years.

The lawsuit anticipates that other surgical patients likewise “will undoubtedly suffer extreme emotional distress due to their exposure to infectious diseases,” and will also face ongoing medical expenses.

It characterizes the hospital’s failure to properly sterilize surgical equipment as medical malpractice, calling it “unreasonable, negligent, careless, reckless and below the appropriate standard of care.” It accuses the hospital of failing to properly train and monitor its employees and of failing to implement proper safety and sterilization procedures. 

The lawsuit names as defendants three anonymous entities collectively called “Anonymous Healthcare Provider.” The court issued summons to Goshen Health Surgery Center LLC, Goshen Hospital Association Inc. and Goshen Health System Inc. in connection with the lawsuit.

Gierek seeks a judgment in favor of the proposed class of patients for the emotional trauma, medical expenses and other injuries and damages she says they have and will continue to suffer as a result of the hospital’s negligence. The lawsuit was filed on her behalf by law firms in Crown Point and Indianapolis.

They argue that class action is appropriate in this case because pursuing thousands of individual lawsuits would not be economically feasible for the individuals and would be a strain on judicial resources. Each plaintiff would also have to prove an identical set of facts in order to recover damages.

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