Breach of Infection Control Policies Blamed for Hepatitis C
The patient/plaintiff received dental services from the defendant federally funded dental clinic, including surgical removal of an erupted tooth. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, the dental clinic had breaches in its infection control practices, which had the potential to expose patients to blood borne viruses.
A year and a half later, an accreditation visit conducted by the Joint Commission revealed infection control breaches constituting an “immediate threat to life,” primarily concerning dental instrument sterilization practices. The Joint Commission attributed these shortcomings to faulty leadership and training of the clinic’s employees. The failures included neglecting to properly document the maintenance of sterilization equipment and inappropriately administering spore tests of dental instruments.
A month after the inspection the patient received a letter from the dental clinic, which advised that the dental clinic had exposed patients to blood borne viruses, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV, and recommended the patient get tested for those viruses immediately. The patient had the recommended lab work performed, which revealed that he had Hepatitis C, which the patient claimed he did not have prior to his dental treatment.
The patient filed a lawsuit against the dental clinic, alleging that due to the dental clinic’s negligence, the patient had to undergo a treatment regime for Hepatitis C, which included medications that cost approximately $75,000-$95,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. The defense for the dental clinic argued that the patient had risk factors for Hepatitis C that predated his visit to the clinic, including prior surgery, drug use, and dental treatment at another facility. The defense further argued that the degree of the patient’s liver ailment suggested that the patient’s Hepatitis C infection was longstanding and had likely been developing over the course of about 10-15 years, long before he visited the clinic.
The court ruled in favor of the defendant dental clinic at the conclusion of a bench trial. The judge ruled that the plaintiff failed to prove “to a reasonable degree of medical probability” that the clinic’s negligence was the cause of his Hepatitis C.
Case study reproduced with permission from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts; Lewis Laska, Editor, 901 Church St., Nashville, TN 37203-3411, 1-800-298-6288.
© Dentist’s Advantage, 2022 © The National Society of Dental Practitioners, 2022
Risk Management services are provided by Dentist’s Advantage and the NSDP to assist the insured in fulfilling his or her responsibilities for the control of potential loss-producing situations involving their dental operations. The information contained in this document is not intended as legal advice. Laws are under constant review by courts and the states and are different in each jurisdiction. For legal advice relating to any subject addressed in this document, dentists are advised to seek the services of a local personal attorney. The information is provided "AS IS" without warranty of any kind and Dentist’s Advantage and NSDP expressly disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to any information contained, including all implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Dentist’s Advantage and NSDP assume no liability of any kind for information and data contained or for any legal course of action you may take or diagnosis or treatment made in reliance thereon.