Thursday, March 3, 2016
Judge Dismisses Meningitis Product Liability Claims
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
In a major setback for victims and a victory for a Nashville clinic, a federal judge has thrown out millions of dollars in product liability claims sought by victims of a 2012 fatal fungal meningitis outbreak.
In a six-page ruling issued this week, U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel concluded that because of two conflicting Tennessee statutes, the product liability claims against a Nashville and two other Tennessee clinics will be dismissed.
Her ruling means victims will be limited to claims under the state's strict healthcare liability statute which caps the amount victims can claim.
The ruling comes in competing motions filed by attorneys for the clinics and the victims.
Named as defendant in the suit is the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.
The litigation is separate from a bankruptcy case which already has produced a $200 million trust fund which will go to victims of the outbreak and limited other creditors of the New England Compounding Center, the firm that produced fungus tainted steroids that caused the fatal outbreak.
Some 778 patients across the country were sickened in the outbreak and 76 of them died.
Ostensibly, Zobel wrote, both the state's health care and product liability laws could apply.
But, she concluded, a key word in the Tennessee health care liability law, the word "any," gave that law dominance.
"The Tennessee health care liability law encompasses all civil actions with some connection to the provision of health care services," the ruling states.
She added that under Tennessee law a statute that is more specific applies when there is a conflict.
"The Tennessee health care liability law takes precedence, rendering the Tennessee product liability law inapplicable," she concluded, adding that the claims "plainly relate to the provision of health care services."
Lawyers for the victims had argued that because of the wording of the Tennessee product liability law and the fact that NECC had been declared bankrupt, the Nashville clinic could be regarded as the seller of the defective product, the fungus tainted spinal steroid.
Zobel, however, concluded that the state's health care liability trumped the product liability law.