By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A magistrate judge has rejected a request by lawyers for Nashville area victims of a national fungal meningitis outbreak to force the disclosure of the details of a trust agreement related to the insurance coverage of the Saint Thomas Health.
The six-page order by Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal, which already is being appealed, concludes that lawyers for the victims cannot force Saint Thomas Health to make details of the trust agreement available.
The issue was the subject of a Dec. 4 hearing in Boston.
Citing court rules, Boal wrote, "The court finds that the trust agreement is not discoverable."
The victims' lawyers contend that the information is needed to discover how much money might be available to reach a settlement in some 100 cases. They have accused the hospital parties of engaging in "a corporate shell game in an attempt to shield the Saint Thomas entities from the liability of its agent."
The victims were injected with a fungus laden steroid at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, which is described in court filings as an agent of the Saint Thomas parties. Nationwide the outbreak took the lives of 64 patients and sickened 751.
In her ruling Boal concluded that "the trust appears to qualify as self insurance" and that the victims through their lawyers had "not sufficiently shown here how the trust documents are relevant to any claims or defenses in this action."
In an appeal now pending before U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel, Nashville attorney Mark Chalos wrote that Boal's decision was in error and the trust documents "are subject to mandatory disclosure."
"They are relevant to this action and will promote settlement and will help parties move this litigation to just, speedy and inexpensive solution,"the 18-page appeal states.
"Disclosure is needed for the plaintiffs' steering committee to understand the terms of coverage," Chalos concluded, adding that the documents would help them determine "what may or may not be covered."