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First Miami VA Colonoscopy Case Headed To Trial

MIAMI (CBS4) -- The case of a $30 million medical malpractice lawsuit filed against the Miami VA Healthcare Center headed to Miami federal court Monday.

Coral Gables veteran Robert Metzler filed the suit against the Miami VA after he claimed to have contracted Hepatitis C as a result of improper sanitation practices.

But Metzler's attorney said that the case is bigger than just this claim.

"We're hoping that at the end of this case, about five days from today (Monday), that we will have the type of verdict necessary to make sure this type of problem never happens again and that all veterans get proper healthcare at the Veteran's Administration hospital," said Metzler's attorney Ervin Gonzalez.

Metzler's case started on June 13, 2007, when he underwent a colonoscopy at the Miami VA. On March 23, 2009, he was notified by letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs that he should be tested for certain blood borne illnesses, including hepatitis, because some medical equipment used in the endoscopies and colonoscopies at the VA were not properly sanitized between patients.

After he received the letter, Metzler was tested and found to have Hepatitis C.

Metzler's medical malpractice suit against the VA asks for $20 million for him and $10 million for his wife, Lucy Ann, for loss of consortium. It's set to go before U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan.

Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Rosen, who's defending the VA, declined to comment on the case. Court documents he filed in the case acknowledge the VA "breached" a "duty of reasonable care" with the vets by using improperly cleaned equipment, but deny the equipment caused the health problems.

This could be the first of dozens of similar trials. More than 11,000 U.S. veterans received colonoscopies with improperly sterilized equipment at VA hospitals in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Augusta, Georgia between 2004 and 2009.

Of the veterans who had the procedure at the three facilities, five have tested positive for HIV, 25 for hepatitis C and eight for hepatitis B.

In Miami, 11 additional suits charging emotional distress have been settled out of court for undisclosed amounts, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Nine malpractice suits have been filed in Tennessee. Officials in Georgia couldn't say how many have been filed there. None has gone to trial until now.


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