Widow unleashes court fight against scope maker Olympus over superbug outbreak

by Chad Terhune, Kaiser Health News, JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News | Jun 16, 2017 

SEATTLE—Three executives from Japan loom large in a cramped courtroom here—at least their photos do, mounted on a white poster board propped in front of the jury.

“They were the key decision-makers,” one attorney said during opening arguments to a lawsuit brought by a local widow against a giant Tokyo-based medical device maker.

Theresa Bigler’s case is the first to go to trial in the U.S. stemming from a series of deadly superbug outbreaks across the country that were linked to contaminated medical scopes. She is suing Olympus Corp., claiming that one of its tainted devices caused the infection that led to her husband’s death in August 2013. The Olympus executives, her attorneys say, remained silent for too long about a design flaw that hindered cleaning of these reusable scopes.

The executives, however, will not be testifying. “Each is currently under criminal investigation and would potentially risk their freedom to attend,” Olympus said in a May 22 court filing. Each executive invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in depositions late last year in Tokyo.

Richard Bigler, 57, was one of at least 35 patients in American hospitals to have died since 2013 after developing infections tied to Olympus duodenoscopes—flexible, lighted tubes used to peer deep inside the body. More than 25 patients and families, from California to Pennsylvania, have sued Olympus alleging wrongful death, negligence or fraud.

For full article, see Kaiser Health News or Fierce Healthcare.

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