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Hep C fallout continues

8/8/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The after effects of David Kwiatkowski's short tenure at Hays Medical Center is certain to last much longer than the four months he worked at the hospital.

Already off to a faltering start, attorneys on both sides of five lawsuits spent much of Thursday morning trying to work out an agreement that deals with some pre-trial activities.

Kwiatkowski is the contract technician responsible for infecting a number of patients in four states -- six of them at HMC -- with hepatitis C.

Kwiatkowski ultimately was sentenced in December to 39 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and seven counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud. He worked at HaysMed for nearly four months beginning May 24, 2010.

At Thursday's hearing, District Judge Glenn Braun, who, by luck of the draw, has been assigned three of the cases, wouldn't go along with a request to keep much of the discovery process from the public's view.

Collectively, the five lawsuits are seeking damages of $18 million, according to court documents.

"We'll do it on an item-by-item basis," Braun said of the request to seal documents in the case. "I'm not going to issue a blanket order."

Instead, he said, the attorneys can send documents directly to him, along with their request. The other attorneys then will get the chance to weigh in before Braun ultimately decides how the documents will be filed. He indicated patient health records likely would be sealed.

Thursday's hearing brought together eight attorneys in the cases, most of them filed in late May. One case, however, was filed June 20, 2013, by a La Crosse man who tested positive for hepatitis C after it was determined Kwiatkowski had infected a number of patients with the virus.

The six Kansas residents who tested positive for hepatitis C -- capable of causing liver damage and chronic health problems -- all were diagnosed with a strain of the virus identical to that affecting Kwiatkowski.

Kwiatkowski allegedly caused the infections by using syringes intended for patients and then refilling and replacing them for patient use.

All five of the lawsuits initially were filed against Medical Solutions LLC, an Omaha-based medical staffing firm, and Hays Medical Center, where the plaintiffs in the cases received treatment.

Since then, however, the four most-recently filed lawsuits have been amended to add the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and Maxim Healthcare Services, both based in St. Paul, Minn., as defendants. They weren't represented at Thursday's hearing because they've haven't been notified of the pending lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Kwiatkowski was a "radiologic technician, credentialed, certified and registered by defendant AART."

Kwiatkowski previously had worked for Maxim, which had placed him at a hospital in Pittsburgh. It was there Kwiatkowski first was observed taking a syringe containing fentanyl, a powerful narcotic, and replacing it with a syringe containing a different liquid.

The Pittsburgh hospital, the amended lawsuit claims, notified Maxim, but they did not report the incident to authorities or AART.

While the 2013 lawsuit also has been amended to include ARRT, it has not named Maxim as a defendant.

The 2013 lawsuit was filed by Donald Riedel, La Crosse, who underwent a series of procedures at the cardiac catheterization lab at HMC. Kwiatkowski was the scrub technician for the procedure, the lawsuit states.

Riedel learned he tested positive for HCV on July 27, 2012. Riedel is seeking $2 million in damages through the lawsuit.

The four other lawsuits, each one asking for $4 million in damages, were filed May 23 by Thomas D. Walters, a rural Ellis County resident; Linda Ficken, Andover; Wanda J. Braun, Russell; and Ronnie D. Murphy and Connie E. McNeal, co-executors of the estate of Eleanor Murphy, who died Nov. 3, 2012, after becoming infected with the virus.

In addition to the Ellis County cases, attorneys at Thursday's hearing said there are a number of cases ongoing in New Hampshire.

No additional hearings have been scheduled in Ellis County, although Braun asked the attorneys to notify him if they are needed.