Friday, February 12, 2016
TN Attorney General Backs Clinic's Motion In Meningitis Case
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
The Tennessee Attorney General has stepped in to ongoing litigation stemming from a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak by backing a move by health care providers to privately interview two doctors who treated a Tennessee victim.
In an 11-page filing Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston, Attorney General Herbert Slatery said lawyers for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center should be allowed to hold closed door interviews with physicians who treated a Robertson County woman, one of the victims of the 2012 outbreak.
Citing a Tennessee law, Slatery joined with lawyers for the Nashville clinic in contending that a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, does not trump the right of defendants to conduct ex parte interviews of Jane Wray's physicians.
Clinic lawyers have asked U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel to issue an order allowing the private interviews of Robert Ledford and Lanny Turkewitz, the physicians who treated Wray, then 66, when she suffered a stroke, just weeks after three injections of a fungus tainted spinal steroid.
Clinic lawyers want to interview the doctors prior to a scheduled deposition.
Wray's lawyers immediately filed an objection charging that "the defendants are seeking intrusive and secret meetings to gain an unfair advantage in the discovery process."
Wray's lawyers further charged that the private meetings were "an opportunity to influence the physicians' testimony" and that any needed information could be obtained under the normal discovery process.
In requesting permission to conduct the interviews, clinic lawyers argued that the Tennessee law "allows for the disclosure of protected information in the course of judicial proceedings, while also protecting a patient's privacy."
"The statute unambiguously states that a defendant has a right to conduct ex parte interviews," the motion states.
Slatery argued that the state law "is not contrary to HIPAA" and "disclosure is allowed."
The Wray case is just one of hundreds filed in the wake of the outbreak which sickened 778 victims across the country, killing 76 of them.
Wray's case is one of seven being proposed as so-called bellwethers, which will be heard before the hundreds of others which have been merged in Zobel's court.