Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Claim: Surgical gowns let diseases pass through

- By Robert Jablon

LOS ANGELES >> A $500 million lawsuit against Kimberly-Clark Corp. alleges the company falsely claimed its surgical gowns protected against Ebola and other infectious diseases.

The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court, alleges that the multinatio­nal company knew for at least a year that its Microcool Breathable High Performanc­e Surgical Gown had failed industry tests of impermeabi­lity to blood and microbes, but it continued to claim the product provided the highest level of protection against diseases including Ebola.

Many of the gowns tested had “catastroph­ic” failures, according to the lawsuit, which called KimberlyCl­ark’s actions “utterly reprehensi­ble.”

“We are aware of individual­s that have contracted various diseases while wearing the gown, but we are not at liberty to disclose what those are at the present time,” said Michael Avenatti, the lead attorney in the case.

Avenatti said the Texas hospital where two nurses contracted Ebola once stocked the gowns but he didn’t know whether those workers or an infected nursing assistant in Spain had worn them.

“We are still investigat­ing,” he said.

A message seeking comment was sent to a spokeswoma­n at Texas Health Presbyteri­an Hospital late Thursday.

Kimberly-Clark said in a statement that it does not comment regarding ongo- ing litigation but the company stands behind the safety and efficacy of its products.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges fraud, false advertisin­g, negligent misreprese­ntation and unfair business practices.

The claim was filed by Hrayr Shahinian, a Los Angeles surgeon specializi­ng in skull base and brain tumor operations who said he had used the gowns and thus was potentiall­y exposed to harm.

Dallas-based Kimberly- Clark, which also makes consumer products such as Kleenex and Huggies, has more than half the worldwide market for surgical gowns that meet the highest level of resistance to transfers of bodily fluids, according to the lawsuit.

“We estimated that tens of millions of the gowns have been sold worldwide,” Avenatti said.

However, “up until now, individual­s have had no reason to suspect that these gowns were defective,” he said.

Companies that man- ufacture protective suits and gowns have increased production in the wake of the Ebola outbreak that has killed thousands of people in Africa and Asia and one person in the United States.

DuPont Co. has said it is tripling production of protective suits.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends equipment for medical workers treating Ebola patients include either a coverall or “fluid resistant or impermeabl­e gown that extends to at least mid-calf.”

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