Thursday, March 10, 2016
Judge Sets Four Tennessee Cases For Fungal Meningitis Trials
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
With the fourth anniversary of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak approaching, a federal judge has set out a schedule for the first four trials in the cases brought by victims of the outbreak and their survivors.
All four cases involve Tennessee victims of the outbreak that sickened 778 patients, killing 76.
In a 30-minute hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston, Mass. U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel said that the first case filed by Jane Wray, a Tennessee victim in the outbreak, will be held in July.
The case brought by the family of Reba Temple of Nashville, who died in the outbreak, will be held in August followed by Basil McElwee, an outbreak survivor, in September and Reba Skelton in October.
"Those are the four we are going forward with," Zobel said.
The attorney for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, expressed concerns about the July date, but Zobel indicated she wanted to stick to her schedule.
"You'll have to work hard to convince me otherwise," Zobel said.
The four cases were on a list of proposed bellwether cases submitted to Zobel recently by lawyers for the victims and the Saint Thomas clinic.
Wray was injected with methylprednisolone acetate on Aug. 31, 2012 at the Saint Thomas clinic and she was hospitalized with fungal meningitis on Oct. 4.
Reba Temple, a Centerville, Tenn. resident, and a longtime county health department worker, died in early October from fungal meningitis caused by a fungus tainted steroid.
Basil McElwee of Maury County, Tenn. was injected at the Nashville clinic on Aug. 20 and Sept. 4 and subsequently was hospitalized with fungal meningitis.
Reba Skelton of Waynesboro, Tenn. was hospitalized for 17 days in 2012 after being stricken with fungal meningitis stemming from an injection. In an interview in early 2013 she described her continuing painful battle with the after-effects of both the disease and its treatment.
Three additional Tennessee cases are expected to be scheduled after the initial cases are completed. Gerard Stranch, a Nashville attorney representing victims, urged that pre-trial efforts go forward on those additional cases so that they would be readied in case any of the original four are settled before trial.
The first cases will serve as so-called bellwethers, that hopefully will set a pattern for the ultimate resolution of dozens of other suits brought by outbreak victims.
In other action during the 30-minute Thursday session, opposing lawyers set out proposed deadlines for the depositions of witnesses and other pre-trial matters.
The cases before Zobel were brought primarily against health care providers who injected patients with fungus tainted steroids, They are separate from a bankruptcy case involving the New England Compounding Center, the defunct Framingham, Mass. firm which shipped thousands of vials of fungus tainted steroids to health care providers across the country.
Victims are awaiting separate awards from a $200 million trust fund created under the bankruptcy.