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Attorneys for dozens of patients who received radiation overdoses while undergoing CT scans at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are moving forward with individual lawsuits claiming negligence against the hospital and General Electric, the manufacturer of the hospital’s CT scan machines.
Originally, a class action lawsuit had been filed, but attorneys are now considering a plan where individual lawsuits will be handled under one case. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones has scheduled a meeting between attorneys from all three sides on September 13 to discuss the procedural issues necessary for the case to proceed. State law imposes a statute of limitations of one year to file a lawsuit from the time the problems were disclosed. With the radiation overdoses at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the statute of limitations will expire at the end of October.
Officials at Cedars-Sinai disclosed last October that 260 patients had received eight times the normal dose of radiation while undergoing CT brain perfusion scans, a procedure used to diagnose strokes. The overdoses occurred during a period between February 2008 and August 2009, after the settings on a CT scan machine were overridden and were not reset. The mistake was not discovered until one of the patients who received a brain perfusion scan at the hospital complained about an abnormal loss of hair and unusual reddening of the skin. Cedars-Sinai officials later publicly acknowledged the error and offered to provide free medical care to the patients affected for conditions resulting from the overdoses. The hospital was also reprimanded by the California Department of Public Health, which required Cedars-Sinai to institute changes designed to prevent the overdoses from occurring in the future.
Representatives of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center did not return requests for comment on the lawsuits, but said in previous statements that steps have been taken to reduce the likelihood of the radiation overdoses from occurring again. The changes include retraining the staff and changes to the protocols for operating the CT scan machines.
Attorney Bill Newkirk, who represents approximately 45 of the patients, said the overdoses illustrate a significant problem that is widespread across the United States. Following the incidents at Cedars-Sinai, additional radiation overdoses were reported at Glendale Adventist Medical Center and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. Last week, it was reported that overdoses had also occurred at Los Angeles County Medical Center and at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.
Newkirk said the decision to move forward with individual lawsuits rather than a class action lawsuit was made because of nuances in the law that make it easier for the court to address the cases. He has teamed up with attorneys representing other patients who were overdosed with radiation at Cedars-Sinai, and said there are approximately 80 to 90 individual lawsuits currently pending. The damages being sought have not yet been determined.
Newkirk added that many of the patients he represents are still suffering from adverse conditions that he alleges are caused by the overdoses, including dizziness, distorted vision, hair loss and skin conditions. Some experts have said that the radiation overdoses could result in a higher likelihood of developing conditions such as cancer and cataracts in the future.
“We believe the radiation overdoses are cumulative, in that they make you more susceptible to certain conditions if you have more radiation treatments in the future,” Newkirk said. “Secondly, the loss of hair is apparently reoccurring, and we think there is skin cell damage.”
Newkirk added that the lawsuits also name General Electric because he alleges the overdoses are a consumer product safety issue. He alleged that the manufacturer has not provided enough safeguards on the machine, or training for the staff who use them. An investigation by the federal Food and Drug Administration into CT scan machines has been ongoing since last fall, and the results are expected to be released within the next couple of months. The FDA issued a letter earlier this year to manufacturers of CT scan machines and hospitals warning them about the potential for problems when overriding the machines’ settings. Representatives of General Electric would not comment because of the pending litigation, but said in an earlier statement that the company is cooperating with the FDA in its investigation.
Newkirk added that another problem is the limited amount of time patients who were victims of radiation overdoses have to file a lawsuit. He said many additional victims exist, and they only have until the end of October to come forward.
State lawmakers are also trying to address the problems of radiation overdoses through a bill that would require hospitals to record the amount of radiation each patient receives in their medical records. The bill was authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), and has been passed by both the State Senate and Assembly. It has been forwarded to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for consideration, and he has until September 30 to make a decision. Calls to the governor’s press office seeking comment on the bill were not returned. If the bill is signed into law, it would go into effect on January 1.
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