Yesterday during a surgical procedure, I handed another OR nurse a needle in its unopened package. As she took it from me, the needle came through the packaging and stuck her hand. When we inspected the package, we saw that the manufacturer had failed to include a protective cap on the needle.
Because my colleague had some of the patient's blood on her glove where the needle penetrated, she's terrified that she could contract an infection. (The patient has hepatitis C.) I'm worried that someone will say I should have checked the needle before handing it over. Could I be at risk for a lawsuit because I failed to catch this rare problem?-O.D., KY.
Product liability law requires manufacturers to produce a safe product; that's what purchasers expect. Assuming that a packaged needle has a protective cap is certainly reasonable, so you probably wouldn't be held responsible for the manufacturer's error.
Your colleague should be getting appropriate supportive services from the hospital, such as follow-up screenings for infectious disease. Workers' compensation should also be available to her if she followed facility policies and procedures for work-related injuries.
If you haven't already done so, submit an event report so the risk manager can help prevent a recurrence of this problem. And you and your colleague should keep personal notes about what happened. If she ever needs to recall the facts of the incident (such as if she were to sue the manufacturer), they can serve as strong evidence.