Jury orders Olympus to pay $6.6M in damages to Virginia Mason Medical Center for scope-linked superbug outbreak

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A jury found on Monday that Olympus failed to provide a Seattle-based hospital with adequate warnings about its duodenoscope and instructions for its use, which led to a deadly superbug outbreak.

Olympus Corp. was ordered to pay Virginia Mason Medical Center $6.6 million in damages Monday for its role in a superbug outbreak that led to the death of a pancreatic cancer patient. But a jury also found that the hospital was partly responsible and must pay $1 million to the patient’s family.

A jury found on Monday that the medical scope maker failed to provide the Seattle-based hospital with adequate warnings about the scope and instructions for its use, Kaiser Health News reports. However, it rejected claims that the design of its duodenoscope was unsafe.

The case was widely watched because it is the first to go to trial over the scope-linked outbreaks of drug-resistant infections. More than 25 patients and their families have sued the manufacturer over their role in the deadly drug-resistant infections.

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Theresa Bigler brought the lawsuit against Olympus following the death of her husband, Richard Bigler, who died in August 2013 after he contracted an infection tied to the manufacturer’s duodenoscope, a device used for gastrointestinal procedures. Her attorneys said Olympus executives waited too long to notify hospitals about a design flaw that made it difficult to properly clean the reusable scopes, and as a result, dangerous bacteria became trapped inside the devices.

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David Beninger, who represented Bigler, told Kaiser Health News that the verdict holds Olympus accountable and the device manufacturer must make patient safety a priority.

But during the eight-week trial the company claimed Virginia Mason was responsible because clinicians didn’t follow the proper cleaning instructions. Furthermore, Olympus officials said the hospital never notified Bigler and other families about the scope-linked infections. In fact, Bigler learned about it after reading a newspaper article about the outbreak at the hospital.

But hospital officials blamed the scopes and said they were able to stop the spread of infection after implementing an expensive test-and-hold protocol, KHN reported.  

“We’re sorry for the grief and anguish experienced by the Bigler family,” the hospital said in a statement sent to the publication. “This was a complicated trial that lasted more than eight weeks. The verdict includes multiple decisions and we will continue reviewing them over the next few days.”