By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A key attorney representing victims of the 2012 fatal fungal meningitis outbreak has raised the issue of capping the amount of legal fees that could be levied against those victims or their survivors.
In a filing in the bankruptcy case of the New England Compounding Center, attorney Thomas Sobol, a lead attorney for plaintiffs, told the court he was considering proposing a cap, despite the fact that the majority of his colleagues don't currently agree.
Sobol noted that the issue of attorneys fees was not addressed in the massive disclosure statement filed recently by the bankruptcy trustee, Paul D. Moore.
In the filing Sobol noted that the presiding judge, Henry Boroff, had raised the issue previously.
At the June 17, 2014 Boroff had asked that after administrative expenses of the bankruptcy case were paid "what is the liklihood that the remaining portion will be swallowed up by that person's attorneys' fees and medical liens."
The judge noted that while the settlement might seem to be "an awfully big number," the funds recovered in the bankruptcy would have to be divvied up among hundreds of victims. The latest filings show a little over $200 million is expected to be placed in a trust fund for victims.
Sobol said that he had not yet made a final decision on filing such a motion but that he felt the matter should be addressed.
"The tort victims and the interests of justice require a full airing of the issue," Sobol wrote in the filing.
In the same filing, Sobol disputed claims by Liberty Industries that it was not liable to any of the victims. Liberty was the company that designed and built the cleanrooms where NECC produced fungus tainted methylprednisolone acetate, blamed for the outbreak.
Sobol also disputed Liberty's claim that a substantial judgment would put the firm into bankruptcy.
He charged that experts hired by the plaintiffs found "large gaps" in the ceilings of the cleanrooms and that the design for the rooms was substantially flawed.
Liberty contends that it designed and built the rooms in compliance with federal and contractual requirements and any dealings it had with NECC had ended years before the outbreak.