NSU settles improper equipment sterilization case.
Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is set to pay $5.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit concerning the improper sterilization of equipment used by dental students on hundreds of patients. The settlement includes $3.5 million that will be paid 1,152 members who are part of the class and were potentially exposed to illness. Nova sent letters to all who are eligible, and most were children who are patients at the Post-Graduate Orthodontic Clinic in Davie. They had appointments between July 2015 and February 2018.
Late February court documents sought judicial approval of a settlement, indicating both sides wanted to avoid trial. “Nova was facing up to 1,152 damage trials, the mere cost of which to defend, would, in and of itself, be extraordinarily high,” Nova’s paperwork said and the class members could have been met with an adverse ruling on an issue that “could defeat their claims entirely or defeat the grounds for class certification,” they said.
No patients became sick due to the lack of sterilization, but they claimed to have “suffered…upon receiving the notification letter,” according to the lawsuit, which adds, “Nevertheless, the named plaintiffs and the members of the settlement class claim to have suffered emotional distress between the time they received the notification letter and the time they received their negative test results.” The letters gave patients the option to seek physician consultations and blood tests as a result of an issue involving post-doctoral residents use an orthodontic hand piece for braces.
Joe Donzelli, a university spokesperson responded, “Nova Southeastern University…is pleased that this case concluded without undue litigation. NSU Health remains dedicated to taking the best care of its patients.” University officials did not admit wrongdoing as result of the settlement.
Attorney Jay Cohen of Cohen, Blostein & Ayala represented the plaintiffs and will collect $1.8 million in attorney’s fees, plus $30,000 in costs. “This happened because they were booking multiple procedures at the orthodontic clinic and the students were not capable or able to adequately sterilize for the next patients. They were sanitizing, not sterilizing,” he said. “They knew about it for many, many months before they ever disclosed it to the patients.”
A university-funded review of the dental practices at the school found the equipment was being cleaned with disinfectant wipes instead of heat sterilization. Cleaning with heat is the protocol recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). University officials said previously that the “notices were not legally required,” and the issues were corrected immediately after they were brought to light.
Plaintiff Tiffany Aguero, whose daughter was a patient at the clinic and the named plaintiff, will receive $12,000. All other class members will each receive payments of $3,000. Twenty-nine plaintiffs who joined from other lawsuits will get $2,000 apiece. Cohen said, “This constitutes a lesson that you make sure you not only have compliance [of CDC requirements] but that you are monitoring compliance. That is so important in a healthcare setting. Something like this should never happen.”