Thursday, December 4, 2014

Point System Proposed to Pay Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Victims

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A proposed bankruptcy plan for the firm blamed for a national fungal meningitis outbreak includes a point system that would be used to determine the amount of money allotted to each victim.
The point system was just one element of a voluminous three-part filling this week by trustee Paul D. Moore in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Massachusetts. The hundreds of pages of documents detail how an estimated $135 million could be distributed in the case of the defunct New England Compounding Center.
A general outline of that liquidation plan was presented Thursday in a hearing in Boston before U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel. She is presiding over several hundred civil complaints stemming from the 2012 outbreak that took the lives of 64 patients and sickened 751.
The victims were injected with a fungus tainted doses of methylprednisolone acetate, with some getting the shots in the spine and others in peripheral joints or the neck.
Zobel and lawyers in the case praised Moore and others involved in putting the plan together.
The plan is subject to approval by creditors and Bankruptcy Judge Henry J. Boroff. Lawyers for Moore's attorney, Michael Gottfried, told Zobel that the plan could be finalized in 90 to 100 days.
Under the proposed distribution plan points would be allocated to victims based on the severity of their illness.
For instance, the survivors of a victim who died in the outbreak would be awarded 55 points, while a patient who suffered fungal meningitis would be allotted 30 points. The lowest number, a half point, would go to those who were injected with the tainted steroid but suffered no symptoms.
According to the plan, those points could be increased by other factors including the length of treatment or complications.
"The amount of the distribution that will ultimately be made to each individual tort claimant is based on the claimant's point total," one of the filings states, adding that "a number of adjustments " could boost that total.
The filings disclose that 3,350 claims were filed for patients claiming to be victims.
Although the trustee's report includes a substantial increase- from $100 million to $135 million - in the estimated assets available to victims and creditors, some fear the actual payouts will not be that substantial.
Joan Peay, a Nashville Tenn. victim, said that not only may the amounts be small to  begin with, but they may well be reduced by the counterclaims of insurance carriers that paid the original bills. Victims will also face legal fees.
Peay's bills were especially high because she was not only stricken in the 2012 outbreak, but then suffered a relapse a year later. She said the bills for her first bout alone came to $53,000.
"Although I'm glad something is being accomplished, the amount is really not good news," Peay said
One roadblock to Tennessee victims was eliminated yesterday when lawyers for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center in Nashville agreed to respond by mid-month to a series of questions or interrogatories posed by the victims' attorneys.
Peay and dozens of other Tennessee claimants were injected with the tainted steroid at the Nashville facility.

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