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Court Rules Tufts Medical Center Must Face Suit After Patient’s Infection Death

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A three-judge Massachusetts appeals court panel partially reversed a summary judgment ruling in favor of Dr. Steven Vlad and Tufts Medical Center in a lawsuit alleging contaminated anti-inflammatory medication was administered to a patient leading to a staph infection that required a leg amputation which eventually proved fatal. The court ruled that a factual dispute exists regarding whether or not Dr. Vlad inspected the inflammatory drug’s packaging for cracks.

Following the death of his wife, Patricia, Donald Laporte filed an additional claim of product liability against Pharmacia, a Pfizer company. Pharmacia is the maker of the drug, and Laporte’s lawsuit alleges manufacturing defects are what led to his wife’s death.

Although the panel disagreed with Laporte’s appeal claim against Pharmacia claiming he had properly established that the company was responsible for the vial containing the medication becoming compromised in either the manufacturing or delivery process, they revived the medical malpractice claims against the healthcare providers.

“Beyond speculation that something might have gone wrong in the manufacturing, nothing in [Laport’s medical expert’s] opinion addressed the details of the manufacturing process at Pharmacia,” the panel said. “[The expert’s] acknowledgement — that the defect may have occurred in the delivery or transportation process — is fatal to the plaintiff’s claims against Pharmacia.”

But the panel ruled that it should be up to a jury to decide whether Dr. Vlad, his Pratt Medical Group Inc. practice, and Tufts were negligent in failing to properly examine the medication vials for cracks or defects prior to injecting the patient.

“Vlad testified at his deposition that he was unaware that the procedure required more than sterilization of the injection site and that he relied on the manufacturer to ensure the integrity of the vials,” the court’s opinion states. “The standard requiring him to check the vials in advance is intended to safeguard patients against the harm that the plaintiff alleges Laporte suffered.”

A Pfizer spokeswoman expressed satisfaction with the outcome via a public statement. “We are pleased with the ruling, as it affirms summary judgment for Pharmacia,” she said. “The court noted in its opinion that no manufacturing defect was established and that the plaintiff has failed to come forward with any evidence upon which a reasonable fact finder could rely to conclude that the defect occurred before the product left Pharmacia’s control, an essential element of product liability.'”

Judges Sydney Hanlon, Dalila Wendlandt and John Englander served on the panel for the Massachusetts Appeals Court.