A Dangerous Error: Duke Medical Hydraulic Fluid Case

Duke surgical errorIf you or someone you know experienced a surgery at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital or Durham Regional Hospital in late 2004, you need to be aware about a potential hazardous exposure. Individuals  may have been exposed to a potentially harmful agent that could be the cause of serious health problems including cancer and blood infection.

Here are some of the events that occurred:

  • In September 2004, employees of Automatic Elevator Company filled empty surgical detergent containers with used hydraulic fluid emptied out of an elevator at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital. The containers were re-capped, but never properly disposed of. Mistaken for detergent, the used and dirty hydraulic fluid was placed with other containers of surgical detergent.
  • Cardinal Health, the company who supplied the detergent to the hospitals, redistributed the dirty fluid and it was improperly and carelessly used to disinfect surgical tools prior to surgery at both Duke Health Raleigh Hospital and Durham Regional Hospital.
  • Hospital employees complained that surgical tools were greasy after being disinfected in the usual surgical detergent; however, no inquiry was made by hospital officials.
  • Some patients who were operated on at these hospitals during November and December 2004 when the dirty hydraulic fluid was in circulation complained of unusual pain and discomfort after their procedures.
  • After months of denial, Duke Hospital officials finally released a statement acknowledging the mistake, but denied and continued to deny that any health complications could result.
  • Suits against Automatic Elevator Company, Cardinal Health, and Duke and Durham Hospitals were filed after letters were sent to 4,000 patients who were possibly exposed to the fluid.


If you or someone you know was operated on at Duke or Durham Hospital during November or December 2004 and you even suspect that you have had complications or health problems, contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately! Some common complaints of patients exposed to the fluid might include infection, joint pain, redness at site of incision, loss of kidney function, and fever. Studies attempting to recreate the contamination suggest that long-term health problems could arise as well, including the possibility of developing cancer from the heavy metals that could have made their way from the hydraulic fluid into patients’ blood streams.

Hospital officials have denied that there were any harmful effects to patients, but the hospitals have commissioned mostly internal studies whose conclusions minimize the danger to patients.These internal studies rely on tricky statistics to demonstrate that only fractions of drops of fluid could have been on the tools during surgery, but the fact remains that both patients and hospital employees could tell the difference without a microscope.

Raleigh medical malpractice attorneys at Brent Adams & Associates have followed the Duke Medical System hydraulic fluid case very closely. In fact, our firm was the first to file a hydraulic fluid claim adding Duke Hospital as a defendant in addition to Automatic Elevator and Cardinal Health.

Mr. Adams represented Bennie Holland, who underwent back surgery at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital on November 10, 2004. Holland developed a severe infection and further health complications as a result of exposure to the dirty surgical tools. Holland has not been able to work since complications from his surgery developed. This is exactly the kind of case Mr. Adams and the attorneys at our firm advocate for: defending the maligned individual against the corporation. If you or someone you know needs representation or legal counsel on this matter, contact an attorney as soon as possible.