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Judge Awards $1.25M Against VA for Hepatitis C from Colonoscopy

A federal judge has awarded $1.25 million in damages to an Air Force veteran who contracted hepatitis C after undergoing a colonoscopy at a VA hospital that failed to properly clean the equipment. 

Robert Metzler, 70, was one of thousands of veterans who were told in 2008 or 2009 that they may have been exposed to contaminated blood during colonoscopy procedures at the Miami Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Adalbeto Jordan found that the Department of Veteran Affairs was responsible for Metzler contracting hepatitis C. Attorneys for the medical center admitted that the hospital had failed in its duties, but argued there was no proof Metzler contracted the disease during his colonoscopy.

The VA colonoscopy contamination problems were discovered in December 2008 at the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

A subsequent review of the procedures at all VA clinics led to the discovery of additional VA health center problems at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Florida.

The potential exposures, caused by improper cleaning and use of endoscopic equipment, required the VA to notify 11,000 former patients that they should get tested for HIV and hepatitis.

To date, at least 25 of the veterans who were warned they may have been exposed to tainted blood have tested positive for hepatitis C, eight for hepatitis B and five have tested positive for HIV. It is unclear, however, whether they all contracted the diseases from contaminated VA equipment.

Metzler’s lawsuit is believed to be the first to go to trial. He underwent colonoscopy at the Miami VA Medical Center in 2007 and tested positive for hepatitis C in 2009. He had tested negative for hepatitis C the year before getting the colonoscopy. He and his wife had originally sought $30 million in the nonjury trial.

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