Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Judge's Move Could Send Meningitis Case Back Home
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
The federal judge presiding over dozens of cases stemming from a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak has issued an order that is likely to send most of the cases back to the courts where they were first filed.
U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel's Monday order requires attorneys for the victims of the outbreak to indicate prior to a June 22 hearing whether they wish to keep their cases in federal court in Boston or have them sent back to the courts where they were first filed.
According to the order some 379 cases were transferred to Zobel over the past three years, while still others were filed in Boston to begin with, pushing the total to more than 450.
The order comes as some of the victims say they were recently told by their attorneys that payments from a $200 million settlement fund could begin flowing next month if final details of an agreement can be worked out with the Medicare program.
Medicare officials are seeking millions of dollars in reimbursements for money Medicare paid for victims' care. The victims reported a "global agreement" could come this week.
Zobel's order meanwhile follows the recommendations of lawyers from both plaintiffs and defendants on the most efficient way to handle the multiple cases. The lawyers concluded it would be more efficient to send cases involving a small number of plaintiffs and defendants back to their origin.
More than two dozen of the cases involve single plaintiffs and defendants.
Also following the recommendations, Zobel's order would keep nearly all of the Tennessee cases in her court. Those cases were filed against the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center and the Howell Allen Clinic, both in Nashville, Tenn. or the Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville, Tenn.
One of those Nashville cases had been scheduled to go to trial in August, but it was postponed recently after there were hints a settlement might be in the works. Zobel's order, however, makes no direct mention of a possible settlement.
Zobel's order states that she will hear oral arguments on whether to send some or all non-Tennessee cases back to their court of origin at the previously scheduled June 22 status conference.
The 2012 outbreak, caused by fungus infested spinal steroids, sickened 778 patients across the country, killing 76 of them.