Last week, a New Hampshire hospital technician was sentenced to 39 years in prison following his guilty plea to federal charges that he had tampered with consumer products – prescription painkillers – and had obtained controlled substances by fraud. David Kwiatkowski, a cardiac technician who admitted to suffering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol, had worked at 18 hospitals or medical centers in different states over a number of years, including those in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Georgia. His last employment was at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. At these hospitals and medical centers, Mr. Kwiatkowski stole syringes filled with prescription painkillers, including the powerful opioid Fentanyl, for his own personal abuse. After using the stolen drugs, Kwiatkowski re-filled the empty and contaminated syringes with saline and the syringes were then used on unknowing patients. To make matters worse, in addition to depriving patients of their pain medication, Mr. Kwiatkowski was aware that he was infected with hepatitis C, which is transmitted intravenously and can cause liver damage and other life-threatening complications. His actions infected at least 46 patients in several states with hepatitis C, and it is possible that at least one patient died due to a hepatitis infection. Officials have asked over 7,000 patients to get tested due to possible exposure to hepatitis from Mr. Kwiatkowski.
It appears that none of the hospitals where Mr. Kwiatkowski was employed knew of his actions, i.e., that he was using contaminated syringes on patients while knowing he was infected with hepatitis C, but he had been fired from four hospital jobs based on allegations of theft or drug use. At least two dozen civil lawsuits have been filed by patients against Exeter Hospital for the hospital’s negligence in hiring Kwiatkowski or for otherwise allowing these crimes to occur through inadequate hospital safety protocols. In turn, Exeter Hospital has filed lawsuits against Mr. Kwiatkowski and the several staffing agencies that played a role in his hiring, which the hospital alleges bear some responsibility for failing to disclose Kwiatkowski’s past improper conduct.
This is obviously an extraordinary case but it is not wholly unique. Other similar events of “drug diversion,” though less dramatic and, thankfully, less harmful circumstances, happen with surprising frequency. Earlier this year, for example, a contract nurse was fired from a New Hampshire nursing home after she was caught swapping out and diluting patients’ morphine with water. Cases involving medical malpractice and improper care raise complex factual and legal issues.
The attorneys at SUGARMAN have an extensive history of addressing claims of these types. If you or a family member have been hurt and have questions about a possible medical malpractice claim against a doctor or hospital, please call us at 617-542-1000 or e-mail email@example.com.