$50,000 awarded to woman stuck by a used needle

The U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, WY, has awarded $50,000 to a woman stuck by a used needle while visiting a patient at one of Banner Health System’s hospitals in that state. A hospital employee had left the needle lodged in a heat register. The woman did not expect or know that the contaminated needle was in the patient’s room, and when she backed into it, the needle stuck in her thigh, says Cheyenne attorney Diana Rhodes, JD, who represented the woman along with her colleague Jim Fitzgerald, JD.

Rhodes says the plaintiff was motivated partly by a desire to force the hospital to improve its needlestick safety efforts. "Tort law is not solely for compensation. Its other important purpose is to encourage safe practices," she says. "The hospital has since changed its needlestick safety and prevention standards to comply with existing standards of care, and it is training hospital employees on the new policies."

Finding the source

Although a nurse took the visitor to the emergency department, Fitzgerald says the hospital never informed her of her medical options. In court papers, the attorneys claim that the hospital never told the woman she had a window of opportunity for an injection of gamma globulin to prevent the possibility of hepatitis B infection. Such injections are standard for nurses who sustain needle sticks.

The hospital never could determine the source patient of the bloody needle, Rhodes says. The visitor alleged that Banner was careless in failing to provide a safe hospital environment, and failing to comply with universal precautions for needlestick safety and prevention. The woman has not developed HIV or other bloodborne diseases yet, but according to court filings, she suffered and continues to suffer distress over those possibilities.

The hospital did not provide her with any counseling commonly given to individuals who sustain a contaminated needle stick, according to Rhodes. Gene Haffner, spokesman for Banner Health, declined to comment.