Colombini Lawsuit For Most Infamous MRI Death – Settled

That’s right. Yesterday, October 26th, the Colombini family formally accepted a settlement offer for the MRI vs. oxygen tank accident which killed their 6-year-old son in 2001. The settlement puts to rest 8 years of litigation resulting from the single largest MRI safety incident in the industry’s consciousness. And though precedent-setting verdicts won’t result, the dollar-value of the settlement will likely cause many MRI providers to sit up and take notice.

Just how much is the settlement? Well that’s (temporarily) subject to a little ‘good news – bad news’ dichotomy.

The good news is that the settlement is not confidential and will be part of the public record. The bad news is that we will have to wait a month or so until all of the formal paperwork is filed with the court to become part of the public record. The parties to the suit (and now the settlement) have agreed to keep everything on the down-low and not seek any publicity associated with the resolution. In short, they’re not talking.

My understanding is that Westchester Medical Center’s parent organization settled on behalf of itself, and the director of radiology / owner of the MRI management company, and the technologists who had been named. This settlement may, ironically, have been both enabled and motivated by the fact that GE had been dismissed as a defendant to the suit in a pre-trial motion.

I can’t begin to fathom the difficulty for the family, reliving their greatest loss through nearly a decade of incessant litigation. In that context, I can fully appreciate the desire to resolve the suit and avoid a trial. I have made no secret, however, of the fact that I wanted a public trial, replete with special reports from Sanjay Gupta televised on CNN.

Why would I want to shine such a glaringly bright light on our industry? Not out of any lack of sympathy for the family. Not to feed an irrational panic about what is one of the safest medical services available. But to focus attention on how we can eliminate at least 90% of all the MRI accidents through changes to operations and protocols. I even had a ‘dream team’ list of non-monetary concessions I wanted to see from the various parties.

From Westchester Medical Center: I wanted the hospital to honor the original promise of transparency made by then-hospital President and CEO, Edward Stolzenberger. I wanted articles, presentations, papers, that explained what went wrong, and what interventions they’ve developed (or that others have developed that they support). I’d like to see a real failure mode effects analysis (FMEA) for this accident.

From GE Healthcare: I wanted to see a new corporate policy that every MRI projectile accident for magnets under GE’s care of which they’re notified (as in “please come and pull out this wheelchair,” or, “we got the wheelchair out, but we need to have this busted coil replaced,” or, “did we ever tell you about what happened here last week?”) to be recorded. Three things should happen. The event should be recorded in the magnet’s service history. A letter should be sent to the client site, notifying them that the record of this accident (and the grave safety risk that it presented) has been entered in the service history. And an incident report should be filed with the FDA for their Medwatch database.

The Colombini family: I do know that one of the principal motivations for the family was to try and make sure that similar accidents don’t happen to other families. I would like to see them lend their name to the development of a fund dedicated to the promotion of MRI safety. In fact, it could be something like an endowed faculty position, but with an ad hoc expert paid to provide presentations or develop materials free from institutional bias. I can even think of someone I’d nominate for the ‘Colombini MR Safety Chair’… the name (absurdly) rhymes with “banal.”

Do I think that these things can still happen without their having been a trial and jury verdict? Yes, they can. My fear, however, is that each of the parties involved would like nothing more than for this entire event to ‘slip quietly into the night’ and fade from everyone’s memory. And while I understand that motivation, I’m afraid that this will rob us of the ability to leverage meaningful change from the MRI industry that would make the next fatality less likely.

Tobias Gilk, President & MRI Safety Director
Mednovus, Inc.

UPDATE: Details of the lawsuit settlement are available here.

3 thoughts on “Colombini Lawsuit For Most Infamous MRI Death – Settled

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  2. Elizabeth Aubrey

    First of all thank you Tobias for once again keeping us updated. One mandate I wish to see come out of this without delay is a “materials standard” in place by the industry. To date the fact that MRI incompatable implants are still being manufactured & distributed is absurd.
    I understand Obama wishes to have our medical histories posted on a “secured-I use that term loosely)Web site. If for no other reason than MRI safety this proposal does make sense to me.

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