With a 44-item agenda, a key hearing begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow on a $200 million plan that could finally bring some relief to hundreds of victims of a 2012 fatal fungal meningitis outbreak.
The hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Henry J. Boroff is being held to consider a massive liquidation plan prepared by Paul D. Moore, the court appointed trustee for the New England Compounding Center.
That now defunct Framingham, Mass. firm has been blamed for the outbreak which took the lives of 76 patients across the country. They were among 778 patients sickened with injections of a fungus tainted methylprednisolone acetate.
Some lawyers for the victims or their survivors are hoping the plan will get swift or even immediate approval thus speeding the financial relief to victims. Even with immediate approval, most expect it could be late this year or early 2016 before any checks are issued.
"Hopefully the court will approve the plan and we can start the process of making payments to the victims as soon as possible," said Gerard Stranch, a Nashville attorney representing several victims.
"This is an important step in getting justice for our clients," said Mark Chalos, also a plaintiffs attorney from Nashville.
In one recent filing in support of the plan, Moore noted that victims already have waited 2.5 years and many are facing financial hardships.
Chris J. Tardio, one pf the attorneys for Tennessee clinics being by outbreak victims, said his clients also support Moore's plan "because it requires the real wrongdoers, NECC and its owners and affiliates, to pay plaintiffs."
“Our clients have voted in favor of the Plan because it requires the real wrongdoers, NECC and its owners and affiliates, to pay Plaintiffs. Despite the $200+ million settlement with NECC and others, the Plaintiffs’ lawyers still demand more money from the doctors and nurses who innocently were victimized by NECC and its owners. We continue to vigorously defend those claims,” Tardio wrote in an email.
Moore's plan includes a pot of money from the owners of NECC, insurance companies, firms related to NECC and other firms that performed services for NECC ranging from testing its supposedly sterile products to the companies that designed, built and cleaned the so-called clean rooms where drugs were compounded.
Though the $200 million to $220 million fund total also includes some of the health care providers who injected patients with the fungus tainted steroid, others, like the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center in Nashville, Tenn. are not.
Saint Thomas chose not to participate in mediation sessions with its attorneys contending the process was flawed.
Once the liquidation plan is in place, Stranch said the priority will be to try to bring the Saint Thomas cases to trial as quickly as possible.
"We are now focused on setting an early trial date so that the victims can have their day in court," Stranch said.
While Stranch and his colleagues have been pushing for trials before the end of the calendar year, lawyers for Saint Thomas and related parties contend that it will take another year before actual trials will be possible.
Tardio, however, said the Saint Thomas clinic and two other Tennessee facilities, were also victims of NECC's wrongdoing. Nonetheless, he added, plaintiffs' lawyers "still demand more money from the doctors and nurses who innocently were victimized."
“Hopefully, the Court will approve the plan and we can start the process of making payments to the victims of the Fungal Meningitis outbreak as soon as possible. We are now focused on setting an early trial date with the St. Thomas entities so that the victims can have their day in Court.” Gerard Stranch.
"We look forward to Judge Boroff reviewing the evidence and evaluating the fairness of the proposed settlement. This is an important step in getting justice for our clients. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, the fight will continue to hold all wrongdoers accountable.” Mark Chalos