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Suit Targets UCI Transplant Program

Times Staff Writer

Nine families whose relatives died while waiting for liver transplants filed a wrongful death lawsuit against UCI Medical Center on Friday.

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, also alleges negligence and misrepresentation, contending that patients were given false hope of transplants and added to a waiting list even though the hospital’s troubled program was floundering.

The patients involved in the lawsuit ranged in time on the waiting list from one year to about five years, attorney Lawrence Eisenberg said.

“Ultimately, they died because there was no way that UCI could handle the transplants,” Eisenberg said.

In 2005, UCI performed five transplants. The three previous years they performed only eight each year, thus failing to meet federal standards that require programs to perform at least 12 transplants annually.

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The hospital has not had a full-time liver transplant surgeon since July 2004, and sometimes turned down livers because no surgeon was available. Even so, UCI continued recruiting patients to its waiting list.

A UC Irvine spokesman said Friday that officials had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Last month, after reports in The Times detailed the shortcomings, the federal Medicare agency said it would stop paying for transplants and UCI shut down its program.

In light of the failures, federal and state inspectors are conducting a full review of the hospital.

In addition, UCI has placed the hospital’s chief executive, Dr. Ralph Cygan, on administrative leave until a task force completes its investigation into the transplant program.


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