Methodist Medical Center says it will ‘vigorously’ refute allegations
Note: This story was last updated at 3:38 p.m.
Five lawsuits filed in Anderson County on Monday allege that X-ray and radiologic technologists, including two who were pregnant, were exposed to excess radiation for several years at Methodist Medical Center because some walls in and around a radiology imaging center in the new emergency department were built without the required lead shielding, elevating the workers’ risk of health problems, including cancer.
The five lawsuits allege the walls in the emergency department, which opened in February 2006 as part of a hospital remodel, did not have the required protective radiological shielding because of building, design, and inspection errors.
Lead-lined walls are required in radiological areas to limit radiation exposure under local and federal regulations and construction and health standards, the lawsuits say.
But the defendants—Covenant Health of Knoxville, Rentenbach Engineering Co. of Knoxville, and TEG Architects LLC of Jeffersonville, Ind.—failed to have qualified personnel survey or check the installation and construction parameters, or conduct proper barrier determinations for lead barrier thickness, to ensure that the walls in the radiological areas would adequately reduce scatter and leakage radiation, the lawsuits say. The defendants also failed to have qualified personnel certify that the MMC in-department imaging center and nearby areas were built in compliance with all applicable regulations and guidelines so that the plaintiffs “would only be exposed to levels of radiation that were as low as reasonably achievable, all before allowing work to be done at that facility.”
MMC, a Covenant Health member, said it will dispute the allegations.
“Methodist Medical Center places the highest priority on employee and public safety,” the hospital said in a statement. “We maintain an active and ongoing radiation quality and compliance program with specific procedures to monitor safety. Based on the results of this program, it has been verified that we have met all safety standards for radiation exposure. We intend to refute these accusations vigorously.”
Filed in Anderson County Circuit Court on Monday, the lawsuits allege that the high doses of radiation received by the plaintiffs may cause radiation injury or increased risks of long-term radiation effects, including the increased risk of cancers. The plaintiffs are seeking general damages, to be determined at trial; loss of earnings; and past and future economic damages, including the costs of medical care, monitoring, and treatment.
The plaintiffs are:
- Micah Noelle Lewellen and her child, of Knoxville. Lewellen is an X-ray technologist and was allegedly exposed to radiation during her pregnancy.
- Keith Gillis of Knoxville, a radiologic technologist (computed tomography technologist)
- Michael Phillips of Clinton, a radiologic technologist (computed tomography technologist)
- Connie Raby of Clinton, X-ray technologist
- Mary Ridenour and her child, of Andersonville. Ridenour is a radiologic technologist (computed tomography technologist), and she also was allegedly exposed to radiation during her pregnancy.
The lawsuits allege that two of the plaintiffs—Phillips and Raby—now have thyroid problems, headaches, sleeping problems, and other health issues. Gillis has seizures and memory loss, his complaint says.
The plaintiffs also have a greater risk of developing health problems, including cancer, the complaints say. If they develop cancer in the future, the plaintiffs could lose earnings and earning capacity, and suffer other economic damages, the complaints allege.
The plaintiffs are represented by John D. Agee and Michael M. Stahl of Clinton law firm Ridenour and Ridenour.
Oak Ridge Today contacted Rentenbach Engineering late Tuesday afternoon for comment but had not received a response as of lunchtime Wednesday.
Wayne Estopinal, president of TEG Architects, said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuits on Wednesday morning. He said his 25-year-old firm has a good track record, and its errors and omissions insurance is stellar.
“To my knowledge, we haven’t heard a single word about this,” Estopinal said of the lawsuits and their allegations. “I don’t have any information.”
The lawsuits allege violations of state and federal rules, regulations, and standards, including radiation safety requirements of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Oak Ridge Today has asked TDEC for comment but has not yet received a response.
More information will be added as it becomes available.