Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized the two meningitis lawsuits in the district court of Massachusetts on February 6, ignoring claims from anonymous Indiana health care providers listed as defendants that state laws should be sufficient to resolve their cases.
The health care providers asserted that their clinics were not of vital importance to the main issues at stake in the lawsuits and that consolidation would prove to be an inefficient avenue in the long run. The panel however ruled that the suits would benefit if consolidated because of the coordination that could take place between the defendants and the district court‘s proximity to the bankruptcy case concerning the New England Compounding Center.
The now-bankrupt New England Compounding Center was the original source of the meningitis outbreak at the heart of this MDL. The lawsuits come from a 2012 breakout of the disease that killed 64 people and sickened 751 more stemming from a contaminated batch of steroid injections distributed by the NECC. There were cases of meningitis in 20 states and the incident has been deemed the worst outbreak of the disease in U.S. history.
The NECC originally filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in December of 2012, however the consequences of the outbreak didn‘t stop there. The president of NECC and its supervisory pharmacist were charged with second degree manslaughter and racketeering this past December, and in January more than $18 million held by shareholders of the company was seized by federal authorities. In the most recent bankruptcy plan presented by the NECC, the payouts connected to the meningitis outbreak are expected to reach at least $135 million and possibly climb as high as $200 million. There were roughly 3,300 claimants at the time of the settlement.
The current MDL is an outgrowth of the original lawsuits that received a $100 million settlement in May of 2014. The lawsuits are attempting to discover whether the health care providers that purchased and utilized the tainted steroids are liable for the effects the disease had on their patients.
The plaintiffs in the two cases claim that their health care providers ordered the steroid shots in bulk in order to save money when they could have ordered them individually. In addition to the alleged negligence inherent in this move, the plaintiffs also claim that the providers should have checked to make sure that the injection were properly sterilized before administering the steroids.The Indiana health care providers involved in the recently transferred MDL have remained anonymous pursuant to the state‘s Medical Malpractice Act.
The Federal Drug Administration has already confirmed that the Indiana health care providers in question did order steroids from the NECC, and the plaintiffs both claim to have been suffering from symptoms that are consistent with fungal meningitis. The health care providers argued that as local entities, they were not directly involved enough to warrant their inclusion beyond state medical reviews.
The JPML however found precedent in previous rulings made against similar health care providers in Indiana and countered the defendants argument by claiming the transferee judges involved in multidistrict litigation are well versed in parsing through specific state laws and applying orders from different states when necessary.