A 70-year-old Air Force veteran was recently awarded $1.25 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against the U.S. government. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C following a colonoscopy in a VA hospital. Hepatitis C is a serious illness that is difficult to treat and can cause severe liver damage.
The man was awarded the settlement after the judge in the medical malpractice case heard testimony there was "less than a zero percent chance" the veteran could have been infected as a result of the procedure. However, he found in favor of the victim of medical malpractice, noting there was no evidence he contracted it elsewhere.
The hepatitis C infection appears to have been caused by the VA hospital's negligence in not properly sterilizing equipment used during the colonoscopy. A U.S. District Judge noted the VA hospital had rinsed equipment used in colonoscopies performed there, but had not sterilized them. Investigators found tubes and equipment used in the colonoscopies full of 'discolored liquid and debris'. He is thought to be just one of more than 11,000 veterans who received colonoscopies with improperly sterilized equipment between 2004 and 2009. Such incidents are thought to have occurred in at least three states in the U.S.
Initially the man and his wife had each sued for $30 million. Those in the military are typically unable to pursue litigation against the government, even in instances of medical malpractice. This is due to the "feres doctrine" which precludes active military members and their families from bringing such claims. What worked in their favor in this case is that non-active veterans who suffer injury can file claims against the VA, and subsequently pursue litigation in federal court.
Source: UPI, "Veteran wins suit against government," Nov. 22, 2012