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Hep C victims agree to $13.75m settlement

Date

Mark Russell

The class action against James Latham Peters is a step closer to settlement.

The class action against James Latham Peters is a step closer to settlement. Photo: Angela Wylie

The women involved in a class action against drug-addicted anaesthetist James Latham Peters for infecting them with hepatitis C have agreed in principle to settle the case for $13.75 million.

The case had been due to go to trial on Monday before Justice John Dixon was told of the proposed settlement.

The matter will now have to go before another judge for formal approval before May 12.

Advertisements will be taken out alerting any other victims of their possible right to a share of the settlement money. It is expected up to 60 women will be eligible for a payout.

Barrister Andrew Ingram, representing the woman who had previously blocked the settlement, told Justice Dixon that her trial, which had also been due to begin on Monday, should be adjourned for further mediation to take place.

The settlement offer on the table had initially been contingent on the woman not trying to go it alone.

Peters and the other defendants had indicated they did not want to pay out all the women in the class action and then have to take part in a trial involving the one victim, but changed their minds on Monday.

Five of the victims were in court for the settlement announcement.

They were later in tears as they hugged each other at their lawyer’s office, saying: ‘‘We’re stronger because we have been to hell and back. From darkness comes some light.’’

One of the victims, who cannot be identified, said the settlement meant ‘‘the end of torment and heartache’’.

‘‘It’s done and it’s over and we can move on with our lives.

‘‘Money will help, it always will but it never really mattered about the money.

‘‘It was all about getting justice.’’

The victim said Peters’ actions had torn apart families, including her own.

She said the best thing about the settlement was that she and her two-year-old son would now be able to buy a house and start a real life again.

There had originally been 50 women suing Peters, Croydon Day Surgery, Dr Mark Schulberg (who hired Peters as an anaesthetist at the clinic and who operated the clinic at the time) and the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency for damages for pain and suffering, economic loss and medical expenses.

The class action covered women who had been infected with hepatitis C during pregnancy terminations at the Croydon Day Surgery between June 2008 and December 2009 when Peters was the anaesthetist.

Peters, 64, was jailed last year for 14 years with a non-parole period of 10 years, after pleading guilty to 55 counts of negligently causing serious injury to the patients by injecting himself with prefilledsyringes of fentanyl- an opioid used in general anaesthesia - in theatre at the surgery. He then administered the remaining drug to the patients as they underwent pregnancy terminations.

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