By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Lawyers for Tennessee defendants and victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak are a year apart on the proposed time to bring key representative cases before a jury to determine any damage awards from Tennessee health facilities,
Filings in the civil cases now pending in U.S. District Court in Boston involving the Tennessee victims of the outbreak show that the timetable proposed by victims' lawyers begins in late 2015 while the clinics proposal would set a Dec 2016 starting date and carry on to March of 2017.
The filings also show wide disagreement over the representative cases that should be brought to trial first. Some 89 cases name the Saint Thomas clinic as a defendant.
Plaintiffs have proposed a list of six cases involving the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, while the clinic's lawyers have picked three but listed six alternates.
The plaintiff's list includes Diane Reed, 56, of Nashville, Thomas Rybinski, 55, an auto manufacturing employee, also of Nashville and Adam Ziegler, 35, an Iraq war veteran. Rybinski and Reed died in 2012. Ziegler survived.
The Saint Thomas lawyers' list includes Reba Temple, 80, a retired Hickman Health Department employee and Denis Brock, 68, who suffered a stroke but survived the outbreak.
In the court filings Saint Thomas attorney Chris Tardio has charged that the plaintiffs' list is "neither realistic or fair" and sets a series of impossible deadlines. The plaintiffs "want to rocket cases to trial," the brief states.
The victims' filing by attorney Gerard Stranch states that the selected cases are "emblematic of the types of injuries that form the core of this case."
The motion also cites the long delay the victims have had to wait for their cases to be heard.
"Not one victim has had his or her day in court. No jury has heard about, let alone deliberated on the liability of those who contributed to this tragedy," the brief states.
Tardio, the clinic attorney, challenged the proposal by plaintiffs to merge the trials so they would all be heard together. He said that combining the cases would only confuse jurors.
As to the proposed case selection, the clinic brief charges that the list is weighted to include the most compelling.
"This gallery of suffering drawn from the most sympathetic cases is manifestly unfair to the defendants," Tardio wrote.
Defending the proposal to start the representative trials in December of 2016, the filing states that the later date is "actually an ambitious schedule."
Plaintiffs' Proposed Saint Thomas Cases
Saint Thomas Proposed Cases