Plaintiffs in Meningitis Lawsuits Have Strong Case Despite Bankruptcy Complications

 

The New England Compounding Center, or NECC, is a compounding pharmacy. The NECC allegedly violated Massachusetts state law by mass producing compound drugs, including as many as 17,000 vials of preservative-free, mold-contaminated methylprednisolone. Contaminated drugs were sent to states including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and West Virginia.

“Such violations can result in serious harm to hundreds of people,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “which was, unfortunately, the case with NECC.”

The fungus found in the methylprednisolone included Aspergillus fumigatus and Exserohilum. The consequences of fungal infections can be very serious. When the fungus spreads into the bloodstream, fungal meningitis can result.

As many as 14,000 people received the contaminated steroids and were thus exposed to fungal meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 137 confirmed meningitis cases had resulted from the exposure, reported NBCnews.com. Twelve of the reported cases were fatal. Unfortunately, the full extent of the damage done by the meningitis outbreak wouldn’t be known right away because there is an incubation period of up to three months.  CBS News indicated that around 12,000 of the potentially exposed patients had been notified.

Lawsuits would soon follow the meningitis outbreak. Last October, CBS News reported that a Minnesota woman named Barbe Puro filed the first lawsuit against NECC. Ms. Puro had received a contaminated steroid and had subsequently required medical treatment and a painful spinal tap.  The lawsuit was a class action filed on behalf of all Minnesota residents “who suffered bodily harm, emotional distress, and other personal injuries after being injected with doses of NECC’s contaminated steroid.”

The Cleveland Legal Examiner reported that others followed Ms. Puro in filing suit and that claims had been filed in Michigan, New Jersey and Tennessee. Boston.com reported that at least 10 lawsuits in total had been filed in state and federal courts. More were being filed daily.

In response to the lawsuits, Boston.com reported that NECC was likely to file for bankruptcy protection.  The bankruptcy would freeze the legal actions, alleviate the pressure to respond quickly to lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions, and block new lawsuits from being filed due to the automatic stay provisions of the bankruptcy code. NECC had also lost its license in several states, suspended operations and laid off most of its employees.

Bankruptcy will not absolve NECC of its obligation to pay damages, but it will make it much more challenging for plaintiffs to collect compensation because they will be viewed as creditors and will have to deal with the additional legal challenges presented by a bankruptcy proceeding.

Although bankruptcy may complicate legal matters for those injured, it is clear that plaintiffs in the meningitis lawsuits against NECC have a strong case.

Product and drug manufacturers have a duty to use reasonable care in the design and manufacture of their products. In the case of NECC, they allegedly did not follow state operating guidelines. Further, the substance they produced was tainted with fungal matter and consumers neither expected nor were warned about the fungal matter nor the risk of meningitis.

Drug liability cases can be based on several legal theories, including general negligence, design defects and strict liability, which means a manufacturer or producer is held liable even if negligence cannot be proven if a product does harm when used as intended. With the suspension of the NECC’s license, the clear link between the steroids and the meningitis outbreak, and the fact that the harm caused to patients is so devastating and apparent, there is ample evidence that NECC should be held responsible for the consequences of their actions.

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