Inter Law – Criminal charges could mean no compensation for Las Vegas victims

Victims of a hepatitis C scandal at a Las Vegas health clinic who are levying charges against the institution may not get any kind of monetary compensation if criminal charges are brought against the clinic.

The FBI, Las Vegas Police and the District Attorney’s Office are all investigating the Endoscopy Centre of Southern Nevada after it emerged hundreds of people could have been infected with hepatitis C, hepatitis B or HIV due to poor clinical standards and medical negligence. However, it has recently been suggested that if the practitioners were aware that the way they were administering injections could put their patients at risk, they could face reckless endangerment charges. While insurance companies cover negligence or gross negligence claims, they do not cover events that could be described as intentional criminal acts.

The clinic was closed earlier this month after six people came forward saying they had been infected with hepatitis C after undergoing a procedure at the clinic. Health officials discovered that syringes were being reused when anaesthetising patients multiple times in an effort to cut costs, despite recommendations that both the needle and syringe should be renewed when injecting each different patient. It is thought the reusing of syringes might have contaminated a vial of sedative which was then used on other people.

So far there have been six confirmed cases of hepatitis C, but health officials have sent letters to everyone who had been treated at the clinic in the last four years urging them to get themselves tested. Since the scandal broke, hundreds of patients have become part of a class action lawsuit, claiming damages against the clinic, while it emerged recently that the co-owner, Dr. Dipak Desai, has just moved home into a new luxurious $4 million property. A seventh person has now been revealed to have contracted hepatitis B at the clinic, but around 40,000 people are having to be tested so it could be months before the true number of those infected is known.

Attorney Geoff White made the following remarks: “If the evidence in the cases show that the nurses and doctors at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada “intended” that their patients would be exposed to the risk of getting hepatitis C or HIV, that would exclude coverage under the policy, and it would also make their conduct “criminal”. The “gray area” is if the clinic workers acted in reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions, i.e. they didn’t “intend” that their patients would be exposed to the risk of getting hepatitis C or HIV, but they KNEW that was a possibility from their actions and they threw caution to the wind. The insurance company would argue that this was “intentional” or otherwise so reckless as to border on the intentional such that there should be no insurance coverage”.

For insurance companied to avoid paying out on any claims, both the court and the companies themselves would have to agree on the fact that the actions undertaken by the staff at the Endoscopy Centre were intentional.

Hepatitis C is a potentially fatal virus and it can take years, even decades for symptoms to start developing. It attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure and someone infected with the virus may eventually need a liver transplant.  A quarter of people who become infected with hepatitis C will fight off the virus naturally, but many people who are not able to do so still go on to live a normal lifespan. Usually, the severe liver damage described above only affects a fifth of those who develop a chronic infection.

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