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Kansas Woman Says UPMC Ex-Employee Infected her with Hepatitis C

A Kansas woman who believes she was infected with hepatitis C by a former medical technician now accused of stealing narcotics filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a Pittsburgh hospital where he once worked.

Linda Ficken said in the lawsuit, which was filed in Pittsburgh, that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was negligent for not telling law enforcement or any government agency that technician David Kwiatkowski allegedly stole and used narcotics in 2008.

Kwiatkowski went on to work at numerous other hospitals, including one in Kansas, where Ficken was treated in 2010. The lawsuit said that she recently tested positive for hepatitis C.

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps declined to comment on pending litigation. Kwiatkowski is facing federal drug charges in New Hampshire. He has pleaded not guilty to stealing drugs and tampering with needles.

One expert said the case presents some unusual questions.

"What would have been reasonable for Pittsburgh to do?" said Maxwell Mehlman,

Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western University in Cleveland. Mehlman noted that most medical negligence cases involve things that doctors did, or failed to do, for a specific individual under their care. It is well established law that you can be liable if you fail to warn someone about potential harm, but the general rule applies to "an identifiable victim," he said.  In this case, UPMC wouldn't even have known Ficken was being treated in another state.

Ficken, 70, of Andover, Kan., was treated at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kan., to get a pacemaker. The Kansas health department said two other patients have been diagnosed with a strain of the virus closely related to the one Kwiatkowski carries.

Ficken recently told The Associated Press that she was angry with the people who employed Kwiatkowski.

"He put me and my family in jeopardy, he put a lot of people in jeopardy and this is just going to continue to mushroom," she said. "Somebody fell down on the job someplace. He didn't slip through the cracks on his own."

Ficken's husband is also suing UPMC, and two temporary staffing agencies are also named in the lawsuit.

The institutions that allowed Kwiatkowski to keep working offered a variety of excuses and explanations as to how he slipped by various background checks and managed to get licensed in other states.

UPMC previously said that when he was accused of stealing fentanyl, officials did not contact police because they did not believe they had enough evidence.

"We noticed unusual behavior, caught him with a syringe, but did not witness him in the act of committing a crime," Kreps said.

Mehlman said the case raises the question of whether state or federal officials should keep better records about medical technicians. There's a national database which tracks negative actions that organizations take against doctors, but like many other states, Pennsylvania doesn't require most radiological technicians to be registered and doesn't maintain records of disciplinary actions against them.

In Kansas, which in 2010 became the last state to license Kwiatkowski, the Board of Healing Arts verified his education, national certification and other state licenses, but not his work history, said the agency's lawyer, Kelli Stevens.

"Cases like this are likely to stimulate an interest in broader reporting requirements," Mehlman said.