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Current Issue: October 2015
Unclean, Unsterile, Unsafe: Risks of Injury from Unsterilized Medical Equipment

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Liability for Injuries from Unsterilized Instruments

More than 46 million surgical or other invasive medical procedures are performed each year in the United States. Proper disinfection or sterilization of equipment used in every procedure is essential to prevent infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the failure to comply with established sterilization guidelines sometimes occurs, leading to outbreaks of infection.


Sterilization procedures may be inadequate, may not be completed, or might be performed incorrectly exposing the patient to injury. Without proper sterilization, use of a medical instrument may introduce bacteria, viruses, or other potentially injurious substances into a patient.


Early in 2015, 179 patients at a Los Angeles hospital learned that they might have been exposed to a “super bug,” a drug-resistant bacteria from contaminated medical scopes. This bacteria, which had already been linked to two deaths, has the potential to be deadly in 40% to 50% of patients in whom infection spreads to the bloodstream.


Attorneys, physicians, hospitals, insurers, employers, and other potential parties to the litigation should be aware of the types of lawsuits and liability issues that can arise for injury from unsterilized medical instruments and equipment.

The Perspectives: Improve Your Strategy


What proof is needed to recover damages for an injury caused by unsterilized medical equipment? And, what is a potential strategy for the attorney to employ?


How can liability for medical malpractice be avoided for an injury from unsterilized equipment? And, what is a potential strategy for the physician to employ?


Can a payout under a business interruption insurance policy be reduced by proof that there was no coverage for expenses related to shipping sterilized medical equipment? And, what is a potential strategy for the insurer to employ? 


Can a hospital or other employer, such as a medical center, be subject to liability for an injury resulting from an employee or agent’s malpractice or negligence involving unsterile equipment? And, what is a potential strategy for the employer to use?

Practice the Technique: Checklists


Check this list of facts and circumstances tending to show a provider’s liability for malpractice or negligence for the use of unsterilized instruments or equipment resulting in patient infection.


Presented is a checklist of items a physician must consider when defending against claims of malpractice or negligence involving patient infection from an allegedly unsterile instrument.


The insurer should check these “red flags” and inconsistencies when investigating a claim of physician or hospital malpractice or negligence, involving unsterile instruments, that resulted in patient infection.


Use this checklist to determine if the hospital or health facility was vicariously liable for employee negligence in the sterilization of, or the use of unsterile, medical instruments, equipment, or supplies.

Expert Analysis

What Is Needed To Prove Malpractice for Injury from Unsterilized Medical Instruments?

Steven M. Levin, JD

What Standards Should a Health Care Facility Consider for Endoscope Sterilization?

Amanda Benedict, MA, Astd


Alternative Dispute Resolution

Arbitration or mediation may be required by contract or statute, may be mandated by the court or, in some circumstances, may be the appropriate method for a negotiated resolution.

Reasons To Reach Settlement

The following are reasons why the attorney, physician, insurer, or employer would want to reach settlement, and not take the action to trial.

Reasons To Go To Trial

The following are reasons why the attorney, physician, insurer, or employer would want to take the action to trial.

Jury Awards and Settlements

How much have juries awarded and what settlements have been reached recently in cases involving liability for the use of unsterile medical instruments, equipment, or devices?

Medical Information

Medical Equipment Sterilization

This section provides detailed medical information on medical instrument, equipment, or device sterilization guidelines and methods; the types of items involved in patient injury; the reprocessing of medical instruments; and adverse events from unsterilized items.

Law and Medicine Resources

Law and Medicine Resources

Provided is a listing of law and medical resources for further information on injury from unsterile medical instruments.

Medical Law Perspectives
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