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Widow Pursuing Wrongful Death Suit After Husband Sickened by Tainted Olympus Scopes

Theresa Bigler’s husband was winning the fight against pancreatic cancer when he contracted a deadly infection while in the hospital. Bigler later learned that her husband, Richard Bigler, was one of the first victims of the superbug infections tied to contaminated Olympus duodenoscopes. Bigler is currently pursuing a wrongful death suit against the medical device maker.

Tragically, Richard Bigler is one of at least 35 U.S. patients who died after contracting infections tied to tainted scopes. As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, the infections were preventable. Olympus, the device maker of 85% of the duodenoscopes used in the United States, knew that cleaning its closed channel duodenoscopes according to the manufacturer’s instructions failed to remove potentially dangerous bacteria. While Olympus was aware of the risk of infection in 2013, it did not alert hospitals and patients until February 2015, after the California infection outbreak made headlines.

Allegations Against Olympus

Theresa Bigler’s wrongful death lawsuit against Olympus is one of the first to go to trial. As Kaiser Health News reports, Richard Bigler was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer when he underwent a scope procedure in 2013. After contracting the superbug infection, his condition deteriorated rapidly. In total, 39 people were sickened by tainted Olympus scopes and 18 died at Virginia Mason Medical Center. In a subsequent investigation, regulators concluded that the hospital followed proper sanitation procedures.

At trial, Bigler argued that Olympus put profits ahead of safety in failing to report that its reusable scopes were difficult to clean and could harbor dangerous bacteria. Internal Olympus emails showing that executives decided not to issue a safety warning even after receiving reports of infections were introduced at trial. Bigler’s attorneys also introduced a report submitted to Olympus by Virginia Mason regarding difficulty in removing patient debris during the cleaning process.

An expert witness also testified that Olympus would have recognized that the scopes were defective if it had sufficiently tested its cleaning and disinfection process prior to putting the scopes on the market. “I found there was completely inadequate premarket validation testing. It was essentially nothing in my opinion,” William Rutala, an infection-control expert at the University of North Carolina, told the jury.

Olympus is facing more than 25 other suits by families who lost loved ones to infections caused by the defective scopes. The company is also facing criminal charges in connection with its failure to report the medical device defect.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a dangerous or defective medical device, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego product liability lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.