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Allegheny County judge tosses 3 hepatitis C lawsuits against UPMC, lets 2 go forward

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 12:09 a.m.

An Allegheny County judge tossed out three lawsuits against UPMC arising from a traveling medical technician who allegedly exposed patients to hepatitis C, but he allowed two class-action lawsuits to go forward.

About 2,000 UPMC patients received letters last fall advising them to get hepatitis C tests because of possible exposure from contact with David Kwiatkowski, a radiology technician who worked at Presbyterian in 2008 and was later discovered to have hepatitis C.

New Hampshire authorities charged him last summer with infecting dozens of hospital patients in New England by stealing syringes of powerful narcotics and replacing them with syringes he had used.

The class-action lawsuits charge UPMC with negligence in the hiring and supervision of Kwiatkowski.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick ruled June 20 that they can move forward, but he limited damages that could be recovered, an attorney for the hospital said.

Still, Brendan Lupetin, a lawyer representing one class action, called Wettick's ruling a victory.

“We feel very strongly, now that we've survived preliminary objections, these are very, very valid claims for all of the people that received these letters,” Lupetin said.

New Castle attorney Dallas Hartman, who represents the other group, could not be reached for comment.

UPMC fired Kwiatkowski in May 2008 on suspicion of stealing narcotics 47 days after he went to work there as a contract employee. UPMC did not report him to police, and he went to work elsewhere.

Rick Kidwell, senior associate counsel for UPMC, said Wettick's rulings limited damages in the class-action lawsuit to costs for injuries that patients may have suffered during blood testing for hepatitis C. Wettick ruled that the patients cannot seek punitive damages, he said.

“People get their blood taken all the time. Is that an injury, and if it is, it surely isn't worth much?” Kidwell said. He said only one patient has tested positive for hepatitis C, “and we're not sure they got it here.”

Kidwell said Wettick dismissed three complaints from Kansas, claiming that UPMC's failure to report Kwiatkowski contributed to Kwiatkowski spreading the disease there.

Wettick ruled those cases had no relation to UPMC, Kidwell said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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