Lawsuits are starting to pile up in the wake of a recent hepatitis C scare at Puyallup's Good Samaritan Hospital.
Friday, attorneys filed a class action in Pierce County Superior Court, accusing the MultiCare Health System of breaching its duty of care to 2,600 Good Samaritan patients who were potentially exposed to or infected by the hepatitis C virus. It's the second legal action tied to the outbreak. The first was filed last week.
Asked for comment, MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards replied with an emailed statement:
"We have not been served with any lawsuit related to this incident therefore we cannot comment. However, our focus remains on making sure every patient potentially exposed is tested and any who are infected are treated. So far, nearly 1,200 people have been screened. We encourage the other 1,450 people who received letters from us to visit one of our lab locations, which can be found at multicare.org/safety-alert."
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The plaintiff in the suit, listed by the initials M.N., was treated in the hospital's emergency department on Dec. 25 of last year, the suit states. She received a letter from the hospital on April 27, indicating that she might have been exposed to hepatitis C and recommending testing.
The woman agreed to testing. The results were negative for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV, the lawsuit states. But attorneys Cari Laufenberg and Joe Sauder contend that the woman will likely face re-testing and cannot be certain whether she has contracted the virus.
"There's a latency period," Laufenberg said. "She will not have a true understanding of the state of her health until the latency period has passed."
Added Sauder, "The hospital is notifying people that they may be asked to come back for a second round."
The lawsuit contends that patients who were asked to undergo testing suffered damages whether they contracted the virus or not. They endured worry and stress, inconvenience and distraction and the "physical invasion and other effects of the testing process," according to the complaint.
The lawsuit also references Cora Weberg, the 31-year-old nurse linked to the outbreak by hospital officials, who described her as the "common denominator" between the two patients initially identified when the outbreak was announced on April 30. She no longer works at the hospital.
Weberg was arrested last week by Puyallup police and released one day later without charges. The state Nursing Commission suspended her license in connection with the incident, noting that she admitted taking leftover drugs after dosing patients with pain medications.
Weberg spoke publicly after her release. She said she took the drugs to aid in unsuccessful suicide attempts. She said she never used needles on patients that she had previously used on herself, and she denied that she is a carrier of hepatitis C.
To date, analysis by experts from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and prevention have linked the first two patients identified in the outbreak and found that they contracted the virus from the same source. However, analysts haven't established the same genetic link to Weberg.
Nevertheless, the class action names Weberg as the source of the exposure, saying she infected patients with needles she'd used on herself.
"That's based upon information and belief," Sauder said.
To date, M.N. is the only plaintiff in the suit, and the theoretical representative of a class of patients who could join the case.
"The very definitive information that the hospital has already provided heightens the concern," Laufenberg said. "It's a very scary situation."