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Clinic facing meningitis lawsuits wants 1 judge

KRISTIN M. HALL • Mar 22, 2013 at 8:15 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Attorneys representing a Tennessee outpatient clinic that administered tainted steroid injections linked to a fungal meningitis outbreak want to consolidate the lawsuits under a single Nashville judge.

Seven lawsuits have been filed in Davidson County, but attorneys representing Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center and the Saint Thomas hospital told a judge Friday that several more lawsuits were expected to be filed.

C.J. Gideon, who represents the center, told Circuit Court Judge Joe P. Binkley Jr. that having a single judge hear all the cases locally would be more efficient.

But George Nolan, an attorney representing some of the meningitis patients, said he was concerned that consolidating the cases with others that have not yet been filed would cause a delay.

Binkley did not immediately rule on the motion to place all the cases under one judge, and said he would have to seek input from the other judges handling these cases.

The injections produced by Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center have been linked to 50 deaths and illnesses including spinal infections and fungal meningitis in more than 720 people across the country.

NECC recalled the injections and then filed for bankruptcy in December. The bankruptcy trustee for NECC has asked that all lawsuits related to the outbreak be transferred to a multidistrict litigation court in Massachusetts, even those cases that do not identify NECC as a defendant.

But with the number of creditors and patients filing lawsuits mounting, some patients are seeking damages from the clinics and hospitals that used the compounded injection.

Lela Hollabaugh, an attorney representing Saint Thomas Network, Saint Thomas Health and Saint Thomas Hospital, said she has been notified that at least eight other attorneys intend to file lawsuits against her clients before the statute of limitations runs out.

But Nolan noted that one of his three clients is an 83-year-old woman whose health was devastated by the fungal meningitis and another patient still hadn't been able to return to work because of the treatment for his illness.

"Our concern is if these cases get balled up in a sluggish conglomerate of cases that haven't even been filed yet, that would not serve our clients," Nolan told the judge.

Wayne Reed filed a lawsuit against the clinic and Saint Thomas hospital over the death of his wife, Diana, on Oct. 3. Diana Reed was the primary caregiver for her husband, who has Lou Gehrig's disease and uses a wheelchair. The lawsuit accuses those who ran the outpatient clinic of being negligent and reckless for using compounded drugs from NECC.

In addition, Wayne Reed's complaint also claims a Tennessee law that went into effect in 2011 that caps damages from personal injury cases is unconstitutional and he is asking for $12.5 million in compensatory damages.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has filed motions to intervene in the cases to defend the tort reform law. The motions were not opposed by attorneys for the patients.

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