Jury sides with hepatitis C victim
By Guillermo Contreras
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted : 12/04/2003 12:00 AM
A Bexar County jury awarded a woman $551,600
Wednesday after finding she likely contracted hepatitis C from a San
Antonio-area business that performs permanent cosmetic applications.
While medical studies have linked the often-fatal virus to tattoo
parlors and related permanent cosmetic businesses, the lawsuit is
believed to be the first time nationally that the issue has gone to
trial, allowing a jury to make the link, state and national health
"We have no confirmed records of hepatitis C being transmitted at a
licensed studio, so we're certainly interested in this case," said
John Gower, director of programs for drugs and cosmetics at the Texas
Department of Health in Austin.
The jury found John Shumate, owner of Permanent Cosmetics by John
Shumate at 6111 Broadway, and his daughter Julie negligent for
infecting Deborah Anderson, who received a series of permanent
coloring touch-ups to her lips at the studio, mostly in 1999.
Anderson, 52, learned she had hepatitis C in February 2000 when a
blood bank rejected her donation, according to her lawyers.
During an earlier donation, she did not have the virus.
She complained to the state Department of Health, and an inspection
of the business found several violations, including dirty floors in
the tattooing area, employees not washing their hands between
applications, and incorrect or insufficient labeling of sterilized
"The jury has sent out a message to the public about the
seriousness of the health issues involved with tattooing," said LoAn
Vo, one of Anderson's lawyers.
Neither Shumate nor his attorney, John Wennermark, returned calls
Roger Sanchez, an epidemiologist with the San Antonio Metropolitan
Health District, said getting hepatitis C from a business is rare.
He added that "it's difficult to prove, but it's not impossible."
The case bolsters a study done 10 years ago by researchers at
the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas that
found most hepatitis C cases in Texas ó 30 percent ó were transmitted
through commercial tattooing.
Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist who formerly worked for the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the state uses a
different standard in determining infections. A person may not know
for years after his initial infection that he is carrying hepatitis C,
and he can't isolate the tattooing as the likely cause, he said.
"This was the perfect case because you have a lady with no other
risk factors," said Haley, who testified for the plaintiff and was the
author of the study. "She has a very low-risk lifestyle ... so she has
no (other) reason to get hepatitis C."
At trial, Anderson's lawyers introduced evidence of violations at
Shumate's studio. A state investigator noticed topical drugs to numb
pain that required a prescription or licensed medical practitioner to
apply them. Shumate does not have a medical license, according to the
The inspector also observed three tattoo artists providing services
for three hours, but none washed his or her hands between tattoo
applications on separate clients, the investigator's report said.
The report also noted Shumate complained about the inspection
"Mr. Shumate stated that this is just another way that big
government is trying to put him out of business," the report said. "He
stated that there are some things that the government has no business