HEADLINE: B&L accepts liability for LASIK blade

BYLINE: Michael Wentzel, Staff, MWENTZEL@DemocratandChronicle.com

BODY:
Michael Wentzel

Staff Writer

Bausch & Lomb Inc. has acknowledged liability for a surgical blade that broke in a patient's eye during LASIK surgery. But the company claims the blade did not harm the patient.

The admission was made in a lawsuit filed by a Rochester woman, Sharon Guess, who claims the broken blade caused severe and permanent injury to her right eye. B&L agreed to a judgment of strict liability against the company in a stipulation released by B&L Thursday.

"They admitted the blade was defective," said Albert Parisi, the Rochester lawyer for Guess. "For a corporation to come out and say we're agreeing to strict liability for a product has big-time ramifications for other lawsuits and for the integrity of their blades."

But B&L officials said they agreed to the stipulation to more quickly resolve the lawsuit.

"We know the blade did not perform as intended," said Margaret Graham, B&L spokeswoman. "We don't know the reasons for that. This will get the issue to a jury, which will decide the claim of injury. We do not believe she was harmed by the procedure and is not entitled to any money."

Guess has asked for more than $10 million in damages. As part of the stipulation, Guess withdrew her claim for punitive damages and agreed not to file any lawsuits against other people or companies.

The blade in question is a disposable, single-use blade known as the Accuglide, a component of B&L's Hansatome microkeratome used in LASIK surgery.

Guess underwent LASIK surgery on March 8, 2001, at Reed Eye Associates in Greece, according to the lawsuit that was filed in December. The broken blade erratically cut her cornea, Parisi said. Guess now has hazed vision and will likely need a corneal transplant, he said.

Graham said the problem was "a unique occurrence" with a blade that has a reputation for quality.

"The non-performance of the Accuglide blade has never happened before or since," she said. "This is the only lawsuit about the blade."

Graham said testimony has shown that Guess "did not feel any pain, did not know the blade did not perform as intended and had no complaints after the procedure." The patient's eyesight was the same with glasses as before the procedure, Graham said.

"First, B&L said the blade was not defective and now they admitted it was," Parisi said. "Now they say when the blade broke in her eye, it didn't cause any harm. How is that possible?"

Parisi said the admission of liability "will open up a watershed of lawsuits" against B&L.

Graham said B&L made the liability stipulation "affirmatively" and does not see it as a blow to the company.

Dr. Ronald Reed, who performed the surgery on Guess, is not a defendant in the lawsuit, now before state Supreme Court Justice William Polito. It could go to trial before the end of the year.