In a ruling lawyers for victims of a fatal fungal meningitis outbreak are calling a major victory, a federal judge has ruled they can continue to pursue millions of dollars in claims against health care providers under a Tennessee product liability law.
In the decision issued just before a long holiday weekend, U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel ruled against a series of dismissal motions filed by the attorneys for Tennessee health care providers who contended the claims were subject to the strict new requirements of the new state health care liability law.
Attorneys for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center had also argued that the suits did not comply with the requirements of that state health care law, including giving 60 days prior notice to health care providers before filing a suit.
Rejecting that argument, Zobel wrote that the "claims are not really about the provision of health care services, but the defects of a product... Plaintiffs did not have to give pre-suit notice."
The 2012 meningitis outbreak has been blamed by state and federal regulators on tainted spinal steroids produced at NECC, the now defunct Massachusetts drug compounding company.
Mark Chalos, a Nashville attorney representing several victims called Zobel's decision a clear victory and that she had clearly rejected the defendant's arguments
"This is an important victory for Tennessee victims," he said.
C.J. Gideon, one of the Saint Thomas attorneys, noted in an email response that Zobel's ruling did dismiss several of the claims by the plaintiffs.
He said he was very pleased with the ruling.
Zobel did grant some of the Saint Thomas dismissal motions including an allegation by the plaintiffs that NECC and the Nashville clinic had engaged in a civil conspiracy to violate a Massachusetts requirement for compounding pharmacies. Some claims under the Tennessee consumer protection act also were dismissed.
She concluded that the evidence provided did not back up that claim.
Nonetheless Zobel took note of the charge that Saint Thomas provided NECC with a "bogus list" of patients including one named "Mickey Mouse."
Zobel also dismissed some claims against Ascension Health, the parent company of Saint Thomas.
The 2012 outbreak caused 64 deaths across the country and sickened 751 patients. All were injected with methylprednisolone acetate shipped by NECC.
In a pending bankruptcy case in federal court in Massachusetts, a judge has approved a settlement that would provide some $100 million to creditors, including victims and their survivors. NECC filed for bankruptcy in late 2012.