A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a Tulsa, OK, oral surgeon accused of exposing thousands of patients to hepatitis and HIV because of contaminated equipment.
The lawsuit was filed by seven former patients of W. Scott Harrington, DMD, including five who claim they contracted infectious diseases during treatment at his dental clinics.
The 18-page federal complaint, filed September 3, 2013, in the District Court of Tulsa County, accuses Dr. Harrington of negligence and negligent supervision for using "contaminated propofol vials and equipment not effectively sterilized by autoclave components." The plaintiffs claim they were exposed to infectious diseases through the repeated use of the same propofol vials.
The lawsuit also includes Dr. Harrington's dental assistants, Terri (Waugh) Valega and Lisa Young; his dental practice; and several pharmaceutical companies. Valega and Young are accused of illegally administering IV sedation, which only licensed dentists can give.
The lawsuit accuses Hospira, Pharmaceutical Systems, and Southern Anesthesia & Surgical -- the makers, distributors, and marketers of the propofol used in Dr. Harrington's practice -- of selling multiuse vials that are "unreasonably dangerous and unfit for use as anesthesia in an oral surgery center because of the foreseeable misuse of treating multiple patients from the multiuse propofol vials."
Specifically, it alleges that the companies "knew that the smaller vial sizes were safer for oral surgery centers given the amount of propofol typically used by such centers and the economic allure to such centers to use, instead of discarding, remaining propofol in a larger vial." The conduct of the companies in manufacturing, distributing, marketing, and selling propofol in larger vials to oral surgery centers constituted "willful, reckless, malicious, and in total disregard to health and safety of the patients," the complaint states.
Dental board investigation
The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry launched an investigation into Dr. Harrington on March 15 of this year after being notified that health officials were looking into a complaint about potential hepatitis C contamination at his practice.
On March 26, the board filed a complaint against Dr. Harrington after investigators found multiple sterilization issues and multiple cross-contamination issues. In addition, they allege that the drug cabinet was unlocked and unattended during the day and that dental assistants routinely provided IV sedation for procedures although they were not licensed to do so.
According to the dental board complaint, Dr. Harrington told health officials that several of his patients had infectious diseases and that he kept two separate sets of instruments for them. Some of the instruments had rust spots, which cannot be properly sterilized, the investigators found.
As a result, the dental board has accused Dr. Harrington of gross negligence and being a "menace to public health."
On March 28, public health officials began notifying 7,000 of Dr. Harrington's patients that they may have been exposed to blood-borne viruses at his Tulsa and Owasso offices and should be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. According to Oklahoma health officials, 77 of Dr. Harrington's patients have tested positive for hepatitis C, five former patients have tested positive for hepatitis B, and four have tested positive for HIV.
Dr. Harrington is scheduled to appear before the dental board on January 17, 2014, in Oklahoma City.