Thursday, November 12, 2015
Court Gets First Estimate of Meningitis Awards to Victims
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Boston attorney told a federal judge that victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak should not be expecting large awards from the bankruptcy case of the firm blamed for the fatal outbreak.
Fredric Ellis, one of the attorneys representing victims, estimated that the highest awards would range from $175,000 to $200,000 and those amounts could be offset by liens filed by insurance companies and other parties that paid for victims' medical care. Lesser amounts would go to those suffering lesser injuries.
"They're not going to be large sums," Ellis told U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel in her Boston courtroom.
The disclosure is the first time an actual dollar amount has been publicly disclosed.
Ellis said that claims could be processed by the end of the year but actual payments could come in March of next year.
The estimate came in a monthly status conference before Zobel on over 100 civil cases filed in the wake of the outbreak which sickened 778 patients in over 20 states, killing 78 of them.
The suits pending before Zobel are separate from the bankruptcy case of the New England Compounding Center, the defunct firm that shipped fungus laden steroid to health facilities across the country.
Suits before Zobel are against other parties including the medical facilities where patients were injected in the spine and joints with preservative free methylprednisolone acetate.
Much of the more than hour long hearing was focused on whether the case of a Nashville man, Wayne Reed, should be among the first to go to trial.
George Nolan, Reed's attorney, recounted how his client, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's Disease, lost his wife and sole caretaker in the outbreak. She died after being injected in the neck at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center with NECC steroids, Nolan said.
He said that because of his illness, Reed is gradually losing the ability to speak and eventually he won't be able to testify.
Marcy Greer, representing Saint Thomas, said that under rules set up by the court, the defendants already had moved to strike the Reed case from the list of so-called bellwether or representative cases.
"It's an incredibly sympathetic case," Greer said, adding that it was not representative of most cases.
"It's going to derail the process," she said. "We've really got to get representative cases.
Gerard Stranch, a Nashville lawyer representing victims, said that the clinics had submitted a list of representative cases that could later be dismissed without ever getting to trial.
Greer denied that charge and said the effort was to pick cases that "move towards the middle. We did not put cases in that would be eliminated."
Stranch urged a new process for selecting bellwether cases which would put the final decision in the judge's hands.
Zobel took the matter under advisement.
Kristen Johnson informed the judge that a $10.5 million settlement had been reached in a class action suit against Michigan Pain Specialists, a Michigan clinic.
In a second case, another Michigan clinic, Neuromuscular and Rehabilitation Associates, was cleared of malpractice charges in connection with the outbreak.