By Associated Press Writer
updated 7/26/2007 12:27:34 PM ET 2007-07-26T16:27:34

The UCI Medical Center agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle 35 lawsuits brought by former liver transplant candidates at the hospital or their relatives, the lawyer for most of the plaintiffs said Wednesday.

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The plaintiffs sued the University of California, Irvine, hospital after a 2005 federal report found that 33 transplant candidates died between 2004 and 2005 even as the hospital turned away organs that might have saved some of them.

The report and ensuing scandal prompted UCI to close its liver transplant program in 2005 and led to the resignations of top hospital officials. The report also led to a federal investigation and calls for a state inquiry.

Individual payouts to the plaintiffs would range from $50,000 to more than $1 million, said Larry Eisenberg, the attorney for 33 of them. He said a notice of the settlement was submitted Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.

Eisenberg said about 15 cases remain to be settled. He said of the 35 plaintiffs who settled Wednesday, only 10 are still alive.

The university issued a statement saying it committed to resolving the transplant litigation "in a reasonable and responsible manner" through mediation. It did not discuss the announced settlement.

Federal health care regulators found that participants in UCI's program had a one-year survival rate of 68 percent to 70 percent between July 2001 and June 2004 — well below the federal requirement of 77 percent.

In 2004, the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the national transplant system, allowed UCI to continue its liver transplant program after the hospital hired a new transplant surgeon.

But 33 more candidates died awaiting liver transplants between 2004 and 2005, when the hospital turned down organs that might have saved some of them. UCI received 122 liver offers between August 2004 and July 2005 but transplanted just 12, according to federal records.

A review of 50,000 pages of subpoenaed hospital records indicated that in some cases donor organs were available but patients didn't receive them because there was no surgeon available, Eisenberg said. In other cases, he said, the hospital couldn't perform the surgery and instead listed the patient was too sick for a transplant.

An independent review by a committee appointed by the university's chancellor blamed the program's failures on high turnover among medical staff, a lack of interest and oversight by campus leaders, and the fact that the two transplant surgeons lived in San Diego, some 90 miles away. The program also failed to effectively recruit new surgeons, the panel found.

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