US Blood Center Sued
Over Used Needle Scare
SAN FRANCISCO - Lawyers have filed a class action lawsuit against a California laboratory after some 3,600 patients were warned to take AIDS and hepatitis tests because a technician admitted she sometimes reused disposable hypodermic needles to draw blood.
Attorney Stephen Blick said in the Tuesday edition of the San Jose Mercury News that he had filed the suit on behalf of all patients at the clinic operated by Anglo-U.S. drug maker SmithKline Beecham Co. in Palo Alto, Calif.
SmithKline fired the unidentified technician, or phlebotomist, after a colleague saw her reuse a needle on March 22. During an investigation, the phlebotomist acknowledged reusing certain needles to draw blood from patients with veins that were difficult to access.
The phlebotomist, who worked at the lab since June 1, 1997, said she would wash some used needles with water and hydrogen peroxide " a mixture that health officials said could kill some, but not all, blood-borne pathogens.
State health authorities said Friday they were mailing warnings to at least 3,600 patients in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties who had blood work performed at the lab.
Blick said he decided to file the suit after learning that a colleague's wife had visited the facility at least ten times over the past two years and specifically remembered at least two instances in which she had blood drawn by the now-fired lab employee.
"Somebody who really had any true training would never engage in such reckless and outrageous conduct,'' Blick told the Mercury News. He did not return phone calls from Reuters Tuesday.
The suit, which does not specify damages, names both SmithKline Beecham and the former employee. It alleges negligence, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
SmithKline Beecham spokesman Jeremy Heymsfeld said it was company policy not to discuss pending litigation.
State health authorities have sought to calm fears sparked by the clinic's revelation, noting that the neighborhoods served by the facility were generally low risk for blood-borne diseases and that the risk of infection from blood drawing was less than that from an actual injection.
Still, a toll-free help line set up by SmithKline Beecham was so swamped with calls over the weekend that some callers were forced to wait up to 90 minutes to have their questions answered, the San Jose Mercury News said.