NEEDLE STICK SOLICITORS - SHARPS MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE COMPENSATION CLAIMSOLICITORS HELPLINE: ☎ 0330 660 7119
A sharps injury or needle stick injury occurs when a needle or sharp instrument, including a syringe and a scalpel, penetrates the skin technically known as a 'percutaneous' injury. If the sharp or needle is contaminated with blood or other body fluid, there is potential for transmission of more than serious 20 illnesses, the main risk of which relates to blood borne diseases. Transmission rates depend on a number of factors including the robustness of the victim's immune system and whilst the rate of these injuries is high, the number of serious illnesses that are actually transmitted is relatively low. Our personal injury solicitors deal with compensation claims for negligence as a result of needle stick injury or sharps injuries by biologically contaminated equipment that results in disease, many of which are life threatening. Whilst this type of legal action may be classified as a medical negligence compensation claim there are numerous cases which are simply the result of an accident at work or accidents in public or private places where the complex issues of clinical negligence may not apply. If you would like free advice on needle stick or sharps injury compensation claims just use the solicitors helpline or email our solicitors offices and a needle stick solicitor will speak to you at length about your potential personal injury compensation claim without any charge and without any further obligation.
Needle Stick Medical Negligence
Wounds caused by sharps and needle stick injuries generally occur to healthcare professionals in well-defined circumstances and are almost always preventable. There are in excess of 80,000 such injuries within the NHS every year and more than half of all employees will sustain injury and risk from a needle or a sharp at some time during their medical career. The primary basis for a medical negligence compensation claim involving needles or sharps relates to personal injury caused by the transmission of potentially deadly diseases or the fear of acquiring a fatal disease including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) resulting in AIDS. Potential clinical negligence cases generally arise as a result of defective product design, inadequate disposal of syringe needles, co-worker negligence or self-inflicted injury due to inadequate training. In addition to healthcare professionals the general public are at serious risk of contracting illness as a result of the tens of millions of hypodermic syringes given to intravenous drug users every year, many of which are infected and are discarded in an unsanitary manner causing serious health risks to those in the immediate area. Public health operatives who must clean contaminated public (or private) areas are also at risk, primarily from needle stick injuries caused by needles discarded by drug addicts. The only safe method of disposal is to contain sharps and needles in a reinforced 'sharps bin' ready for professional contractors to deal with them.
Most sharps and needle stick injuries occur within a work environment which is not necessarily a medical facility. Employers, contractors and the owners of property have a legal duty to take care of the welfare of their employees and of any visitors to their premises. An employer has a legal duty to carry out risk assessments relating to any potentially hazardous procedures and is required by law to take reasonable steps to eliminate or mitigate the risk to an acceptable degree. Where risk cannot be entirely eliminated it is incumbent on the employer to provide adequate safety equipment including protective clothing and a safe system of work.
All legal actions for damages are governed by time limits and in general terms a personal injury compensation claim for a needle stick or sharps incident must be settled or proceedings must have been issued by a solicitor in a court of law within three years of the event that caused the injury taking place however there are important exceptions that apply to needle stick and sharps injury compensation claims as follows:-
- Time does not start to run until a minor is 18 years old which means that in all cases involving minors the time limit expires three years later on the eve of the 21st birthday.
- Time does not run against a mentally incapacitated person until full mental capacity is regained (if ever). In the case of a permanently brain damaged person who lacks full capacity there is effectively no time limit and proceedings can be taken at any point during their life.
- Time does not start to run until such time as the injury is discovered (with reasonable diligence). This means that if a victim is aware of a needle stick or sharps incident they should immediately arrange testing because in that case time runs from the event however if the needle stick or sharps injury went un-noticed then time only runs from subsequent diagnosis of the disease which may be many years after the general time limit has expired.
Needle Stick Injury - Facts & Figures
A common hospital and pre-hospital compensation injury is the needle stick or sharps injury. Staff persons working at Accident & Emergency, ambulance services and laboratories are under the pressure to work fast and efficiently when working with needles and blood products. Accidents related to being stuck by a sharp object are all too easy to happen and the results of such a stick could result in serious illness. Sharps injuries are under-reported, perhaps due to the embarrassment of having to admit a mistake. Nevertheless, in excess of 80,000 reported needle sticks and sharps injuries do occur every year.
A needle stick and sharps injury happens in several ways. A person using a hypodermic needle and drawing blood on a patient may re-cap the needle and miss, resulting in a stick from the needle. A nurse or surgeon might become too hasty in their movements in an operating room situation and may stick themselves with a surgical needle. A lab technician may break a capillary tube and become stuck with a piece of the sharp glass that has been contaminated with blood.
The danger in getting a needle stick or sharps injury doesn't lie in the stick itself but rather the contamination of the sharp object with human blood is the problem. Blood has the capacity to carry a number of blood borne pathogens. Most blood borne pathogens are viruses that are carried in the blood, often for long periods of time. It takes extremely small amounts of blood to potentially contaminate the hospital worker with the pathogen and the hospital worker can develop the blood borne illness.
There are approximately 20 different blood borne pathogens that a person can get from a needle stick injury but there are three that are vastly more common than any of the others. These three are all viruses that can remain active in the blood for a long time and include the viruses known as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV or human immunodeficiency virus. Each of these viruses are dangerous for their potential to cause serious disease and to remain in a person's system indefinitely.
Perhaps the most dangerous blood borne pathogen is the HIV infection. HIV is a retrovirus that has been found in the world only since the 1970s. It affects the human body by attacking the body's own immune system resulting in reductions in T cells important in fighting off infections. The individual with HIV is usually unable to clear the infection on his or her own and is susceptible to a host of other serious infectious diseases and even cancer. Fortunately, researchers have been able to develop a series of medications that, when taken by a person infected by HIV can improve their immunity and improve the length and quality of their lives.
Hepatitis B is another viral infection that can be passed through contamination of blood. In fact, the odds of getting a hepatitis B infection are higher than HIV, both due to the increase in hepatitis B carriers over HIV carriers and the fact that it takes less blood contamination to increase a person's risk of infection. Hepatitis B infections involve primarily the liver and can lead to an acute liver illness with fever, malaise and jaundice. In some people, however, the infection does not clear and active viral particles remain in the blood with the ability to infect someone else.
Hepatitis C infections are less common but no less dangerous. Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver similar to the way that hepatitis B infects the liver. Hepatitis C can only be passed from one person to another through unprotected sexual encounters with an infected individual or blood to blood contact between a non-infected individual and an infected individual. While some people can clear their hepatitis C infection, a great number of individuals will not clear the infection and have an active disease. Hepatitis C infections are dangerous in their ability to result in cases of liver cancer.
As mentioned, there are all too many ways to become contaminated with another's blood in a hospital or emergency medical services (EMS) setting. A person can attempt to re-cap a hypodermic needle and miss, resulting in a contaminated stick. A nurse in an operating room can get stuck on the curved needles used in this type of setting. In fact, operating room nurses are considered at the highest risk of all hospital employees to get stuck. A lab technician can get stuck on broken capillary tubes or other broken glass. A nurse can get stuck on needles used in IVs and IV systems. Razors used to shave patients can become contaminated with blood and the razor blades can then injure the person doing the shaving.
In general, hospitals have developed procedures to identify dangerous needle sticks. The individual who gets stuck with a needle or sharp object that may have been contaminated with blood must report the incident immediately and file a report on the incident. The lab then draws blood from the patient whose blood is in question to see if they have an infection. The staff person is also drawn to see if they may have a pre-existing infection. If the patient is a known HIV patient, the staff person is given medications for a period of time to decrease the chance of HIV-contaminated infection. The staff person is tested again in approximately six months post-exposure to see if there has been transmission of infection.
Hospitals and laboratories have also adopted the use of sharps collection boxes that, in some facilities, must be used in any room where blood is drawn or stored. The collection boxes are a standard red, orange or red/orange color and must be both leak proof and puncture-proof. They must have self-closing lids that protect someone from reaching in the box and getting stuck. Staff people must put contaminated items in the collection box immediately after use. When a collection box becomes full it is replaced by another box and the original box is sent to a medical waste landfill or otherwise destroyed.
While technically the needle stick or sharps injury is caused by the action of a hospital or pre-hospital employee, those who study needle sticks feel that the cause of needle sticks is more due to the design of the systems being used rather than on any carelessness on the part of the employee. For this reason, companies are designing unique products that can reduce the incidence of needle sticks and sharps sticks. For example, there are new designs in hypodermic needle covers that reduce the risk of getting stuck during the re-capping procedure.
Similarly, new designs in intravenous systems have been created that involve the use of no needles at all other than the needle used to stick the patient. These allow fast and efficient use of IV systems without risk to the nurse or other staff person. These measures have obviously not eliminated the incidence of needle sticks; however the CDC believes that the new systems have prevented 62-68 percent of injuries.