Patient lawsuits over hepatitis C hospital outbreak rack up

While health officials continue to investigate whether a hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital stemmed from a hospital employee abusing narcotics, the New Hampshire hospital prepares to face seven lawsuits from patients that could cost the hospital millions of dollars in damages, according to the Exeter Patch.

So far, the largest of the suits is a class-action lawsuit involving 44 plaintiffs, with more expected to join, the article noted.

Former patients also have filed separate suits in Rockingham County Superior Court, alleging negligence, medical negligence and recklessness, The Union Leader reported. In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs said they suffered "devastating emotional distress" from being infected with an "incurable blood borne infectious disease," leading to enormous medical expenses and risking eligibility for life and medical insurance, according to the Union Leader.

Although the lawsuits are piling up against Exeter Hospital, personal-injury attorneys note that a New Hampshire law may prevent the hospital from having to pay all of the damages awarded by the jury, according to another Union Leader article. The law requires courts to instruct jurors to determine the "proportionate fault" of each of the parties responsible for a death or personal injury, which can include "parties" who are not named in a particular lawsuit. Exeter could argue that its employee is more at fault for the hepatitis C outbreak than the hospital.

"So even though that guy's not here, didn't participate in the trial, isn't named in the case, didn't have a lawyer to defend him, didn't put in any evidence ... (the jury can) apportion blame between the hospital and the rogue employee," Mike Noonan, managing partner of Shaheen & Gordon, told the newspaper.

The outbreak has infected 20 Exeter patients so far, with more test results to come, according to Patch.

For more:
- read the Exeter Patch article
- here's the Union Leader article on the suits and the article on the monetary damages