Duke hospital sued again over hydraulic fluid mix-up

A former patient has revived a lawsuit accusing the Duke University Health System (DUHS) in Durham, NC, of negligence related to an incident in which surgical instruments were mistakenly washed in used hydraulic fluid from the hospital elevators instead of sterilizing fluid.

DUHS confirmed in November 2004 that staff accidentally washed surgical tools in used elevator hydraulic fluid for two months, which resulted in the use of tainted instruments to treat approximately 3,800 patients. Bennie Holland underwent back surgery at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital Nov. 10, 2004, and he claims that the improperly cleaned instruments caused him a severe infection and chronic pain, according to information supplied by his attorney Brent Adams, JD, in Dunn, NC. Holland's lawsuit is the only one to come light publicly so far.

DUHS recently released a statement explaining that it does not comment on pending litigation. In a statement issued in July 2006, when Holland's lawsuit was first filed, the hospital issued a statement saying, "We regret this incident occurred, but stand by the results of independent studies and our own analyses … [which] confirmed that the surgical instruments were fully sterile."

Legal maneuvering allowed refiling

Holland withdrew his lawsuit without prejudice in August 2006, a maneuver that allowed him to refile the case at a later date. In addition to suing DUHS, Holland also was the first of eight patients to file lawsuits against Automatic Elevator Co. of Durham and Cardinal Health, a medical supplies company based in Dublin, OH.

When the incident was first revealed in 2004, DUHS explained that employees of Automatic Elevator Co. of Durham mistakenly had filled empty detergent containers with the used hydraulic fluid in September 2004. Cardinal Health redistributed the fluid to Duke Health Raleigh Hospital and Durham Regional Hospital in the same month.

After the incident became public, Duke officials created a web site for patients concerned about possible effects from surgery with the tainted instruments: hydraulicfluidfacts.dukehealth.org.


For more information on the lawsuit against Duke University Health System, contact:

  • Brent Adams, JD, Brent Adams & Associates, 119 S. Lucknow Square, Dunn, NC 28334. Telephone: (910) 892-8177. E-mail: Brent@brentadams.com.