By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A federal judge helping oversee more than 200 lawsuits filed by victims of a 2012 nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak has issued a series or orders setting a schedule that could move the massive litigation to a quicker conclusion.
The orders issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal clear the way for victims' lawyers to begin collecting evidence and taking testimony from defendants in the case.
"We're very happy with this," said Nashville, Tenn. attorney Gerard Stranch. "This is what we've wanted for a long time."
Boal issued the orders Thursday in Boston, Mass. following a hearing on the cases which have been consolidated under U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel. Zobel had referred the scheduling issue to Boal.
Stranch said the order means that the defendants in the cases, including the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center in Nashville, will have to respond to subpoenas for records. Clinic officials will also be required to answer questions under oath in a series of depositions.
Stranch said the plaintiffs in the case also will have to produce new information including profiles of the patients making the claims.
Those profiles will not be required, however, for victims whose cases are involved in a mediation process.
Chris Tardio, one of the lawyers representing the Saint Thomas outpatient center, said he too was pleased with the Boal order, which he added included many provisions they had requested.
"We are looking
forward to demonstrating that, in the setting of complete abandonment of
oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy, our clients
had no reason to foresee the Massachusetts pharmacy
would send us contaminated medication despite assuring us they followed
proper safety procedures."
Another filing in the case by attorneys for the plaintiffs shows that of the 212 cases now before Zobel, 118 were filed in behalf of Tennessee patients. Ninety-one of the cases involve patients of the Saint Thomas outpatient center, while the remaining 27 were treated at two clinics.
Other cases include 39 from Virginia, seven from Ohio and four from California. Two of those California claims were filed by patients of an Encino outpatient facility. Twenty-three claims have been filed in behalf of New Jersey patients, but 13 of that total are involved in mediation.
Only six suits before Zobel come from Michigan patients, but dozens of others remain in state courts.
Michigan had the most victims, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, 751 patients were sickened in the outbreak, while 64 died. There were 264 victims in Michigan with 19 deaths, while Tennessee reported 153 sickened and 16 dead. Virginia had 54 sickened and five dead while New Jersey listed 51 sickened but no deaths.
Lawyers involved in the case predict that actual trials are not likely to take place until 2016, nearly four years after the outbreak was discovered.