Settlement reached in lawsuit against hospital over unsterilized forceps

By The Canadian Press
December 8, 2017 - 8:30am

FREDERICTON — A tentative settlement of more than $1.2 million has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against a New Brunswick hospital over the use of unsterilized biopsy forceps over a 14-year period.

Lawyer Maddy Carter of the Halifax law firm, Wagners, said Friday that the individual payments will be between $350 and $1,000, depending on the number of people who submit claims.

"There are potentially 2,500 or so individuals who will be eligible for the settlement, provided that they are still alive at the time the settlement gets approved and provided they did not opt out of the class action," she said. 

In 2013, the Miramichi Regional Hospital urged nearly 2,500 women to get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV after discovering the problem.

At the time, Horizon Health Network CEO John McGarry said that while the forceps used for colposcopies were sterilized at the end of every day, some forceps were only cleaned and disinfected before being reused during the day.

A colposcopy is a procedure used to examine the cervix, vagina and vulva to detect cervical cancer.

He said the problem began in May 1999 when the clinic started reusing biopsy forceps without sterilizing them in order to handle patient load.

The settlement must still be approved by the courts, with a hearing date set for March 20, 2018.

"We believe that the proposed settlement provides for reasonable compensation for class members and avoids protracted litigation," said lawyer Ray Wagner.

Carter said the settlement is not an admission of guilt by the hospital or health authority and none of the allegations in the suit has been proven in court.

Documents obtained in 2014 under access-to-information laws showed that health authority officials deliberated for three months about whether to inform the public about the unsterilized forceps.

The documents said the officials spent weeks trying to assess the risk to patients.

In the end, it was decided the information would be released and a news conference was held.

McGarry urged the affected women to be tested, but stressed that the risk of infection was extremely low, even without sterilization.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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