Hepatitis outbreak leads to record settlement

Patients win $27.5 million lawsuit after hepatitis B outbreak in Ontario. Biggest medical malpractice settlement in Canadian history.

Thousands of people exposed to hepatitis B from unsterilized needles at an Ontario doctor's clinics have won what's believed to be the largest medical malpractice settlement in Canadian history.

More than 14,000 patients are entitled to a share of $27.5 million under an agreement reached in Ontario Superior Court. Compensation will range from $100 to more than $130,000 per person.

"I think anybody who understood the case and the facts of the case would agree that the settlement is a fair one," said Ed Hyer, one of the lawyers involved in the class-action suit.

The joint lawsuit was filed against neurologist Ronald Wilson after an outbreak of the potentially deadly virus of the liver was traced to his Toronto-area clinics about six years ago.

Health officials said unsterilized needles were inserted into his patients' scalps during electroencephalogram brain exams, or EEGs. The tests, used to diagnose conditions like epilepsy, are routinely performed with disposable paddles and tape.

According to investigators, Wilson carried out the procedure along with his technologist, who had a highly infectious case of hepatitis B and did not wear surgical gloves.

As many as 1,000 people ended up contracting hepatitis one of the largest outbreaks in the country's history. Many men and women became seriously ill, and it's believed one victim died.

The doctor's insurer agreed to pay money to thousands of former patients, whether they were infected or not. Larger amounts will go to those who tested positive for the virus.

"For six to seven months ... we had no idea what was wrong with me," said Deborah Berschuren, one of the patients who sued. "It was horrible how sick I was," she told reporters in 1996.

Wilson, who denies any wrongdoing, now runs a sleep clinic in Toronto. Next month, he'll be the subject of a disciplinary hearing by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.