Hospital drops lawsuit against infection victims who spoke to papers
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The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (July 27, 2002 11:42 a.m. EDT) - A hospital that sued to stop people from talking about deadly infections there withdrew its suit Friday, calling it the "best course of action."
Bridgeport Hospital dropped its suit a day after winning the first legal round in its fight to keep secret details of lawsuit settlements paid to two families.

More than a dozen people were sickened by staphylococcus infections a few years ago at the hospital in Bridgeport, about 50 miles from Hartford. It was one of several institutions cited in a Chicago Tribune series last weekend about hospital infections.

The Tribune interviewed Phil Bonaffini, whose wife Gloria, died Feb. 25, 1999, and Eunice Babcock, who became seriously ill. Both contracted staph infections after surgery at Bridgeport Hospital. Bonaffini and Babcock, and her husband, Keith, also talked to the Connecticut Post.

After the newspaper reports, the hospital sued Bonaffini and the Babcocks, seeking to enforce the May 2001 settlement, in which the plaintiffs agreed to keep the terms, conditions and existence of the deal confidential.

Bonaffini at the time called the suit "stupid," saying he didn't discuss terms of the settlement. "I only talked about the way they treated my wife," he told the Post.

On Friday, lawyers for the hospital were in court to undo that legal move.

"We deemed that's the best course of action for everyone involved," said Audrey Wise, hospital spokeswoman.

Lawyers for the hospital and families did not immediately return phone calls.

The change in course does not undo the settlement or dissolve its confidentiality clause. Critics say those types of restrictions are leading to unsafe conditions in hospitals nationwide.

"Secrecy kills," said Carlton Carl, a spokesman for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. "Hospitals like this that cover up injuries and deaths and the reasons for them are exposing future patients to the same kinds of dangers."

Jim Saxton, chair of the American Health Lawyers Association and a lawyer who represents hospitals and physicians, said that Bridgeport Hospital's actions were fair and not uncommon.

"It's not surprising that they would go to court and it's not surprising that the court would enforce the agreement," he said before the hospital announced its withdrawal of the suit.

Saxton emphasized that plaintiffs agree to confidentiality agreements because they are mutually beneficial.

"Both sides will often say: 'Let's settle up our differences. Let's both agree that we won't divulge this information," Saxton said.

On Thursday a judge had temporarily ordered the families not to talk further. A hearing in the case was set for Aug. 19.

The Chicago newspaper investigation reported that 103,000 people had died nationwide in 2000 because of hospital infections. Among the details was information from a suit on behalf of four patients at Bridgeport who contracted infections there in 1996 and 1997.

The records indicated germs flourished in areas that were supposed to be the most sterile. The Tribune reported that flies buzzed overhead during open-heart surgery, that doctors wore germ-laden clothes from home into the operating room and that many never washed their hands.

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