The lawsuit alleges that negligence by UPMC and Maxim allowed Kwiatkowski to expose thousands of UPMC patients and employees to the Hepatitis C virus that is believed to have caused at least one fatality. This lawsuit includes a wrongful death action on behalf of a patient who died of cirrhosis of the liver, a condition often related to the Hepatitis C virus. It also includes nine other UPMC Presbyterian patients that received a letter notifying them of possible exposure to the Hepatitis C virus, three of which tested positive, five tested negative and one currently waiting on results of the Hepatitis C Antibody Screen.
Specifically the complaint alleges that UPMC and Maxim were negligent in the hiring, retention and supervision of Kwiatkowski. In addition, it alleges UPMC allowed Kwiatkowski to gain access to a controlled substance, Fentanyl, and failed to protect the safety and well being of their patients. The class action alleges that UPMC and Maxim knew or should have known of the risks of employees pilfering or diverting narcotics. It is believed that UPMC had a similar problem with narcotics being diverted and an "Action Plan" was created to detect, monitor, and report employee drug pilfering and diversion. In spite of their own protocol, when Kwiatkowski was found with drugs in his system and empty syringes on his person, no action was taken by UPMC to complete a DEA Form 106, as required by law to document a theft of a controlled substance.
It has been reported that Kwiatkowski was working at UPMC in 2008 when a co-worker accused him of lifting a syringe of Fentanyl from an operating room table and replacing it with another syringe filled with another substance. Empty syringes were found on his person and in his locker. He was fired after a drug screening showed Fentanyl and other opiates in his system. The syringe left on the table was found to have been used by Kwiatkowski and refilled with another substance. UPMC did not report his behavior to law enforcement or any government agency. Maxim, the staffing agency that placed Kwiatkowski at UPMC, also failed to report the conduct to anyone.
In August of 2012, Kwiatkowski was arrested in Massachusetts after it was found that at least 31 patients at Exeter Hospital had contracted the same strain of the Hepatitis C virus. At this time, UPMC sent letters to 2,000 patients warning them of possible Hepatitis C exposure at UPMC in 2008.
According to Attorney Douglas J. Olcott, partner at Dallas W. Hartman, PC, "this is a medical crisis that was completely preventable." He went on to say that "UPMC not only put countless patients and their loved ones at risk, they put their own employees at risk for exposure to the Hepatitis C virus and other bacterial and viral infections. They knew about the risks to the patients in 2008 when he was caught and they chose to wait four years to warn their patients."
Olcott went on to say that this case lends itself to a class action because of the commonality of all of the plaintiffs. According to Olcott, "We represent several people and the commonality is UPMC, Maxim and their negligence. The same act caused the damages. Each person named as a plaintiff in this case experienced the same feelings of anxiety, fear and betrayal. Most people go to the hospital expecting and hoping to get better, not worse."
The wrongful death action is on behalf of a woman who received a letter from UPMC in August of 2012 informing her that her husband may have been exposed to the Hepatitis C virus while he was hospitalized in 2008. Her husband passed away this past January from complications due to cirrhosis or the liver, a common result of the Hepatitis C virus. According to Olcott, "there could be more people who have passed away in the past four years whose family members have no idea that they were victims of this alleged negligence. We believe a class action is the best way to reach those potential victims."
Olcott went on to say that more plaintiffs will be added to the suit in the near future.