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Meningitis outbreak: Lawsuits will be consolidated in Mass.

10:41 AM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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By Walter F. Roche Jr., The Tennessean

A federal judicial panel has ruled that dozens of cases involving a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, including those filed on behalf of Tennessee victims, will be consolidated before a federal judge in Boston.

In Tuesday's ruling, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation concluded that Massachusetts was the most appropriate location for the multiple lawsuits because the company blamed for the outbreak is located there and many of the likely witnesses live there. Federal and state investigations of the outbreak are centered there.

The decision follows a hearing late last month in Orlando, Fla., at which attorneys for the victims and the New England Compounding Center all favored consolidation but differed on a preferred location.

"Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, especially with respect to class certification and discovery issues; and conserve the resources of the parties," the seven-judge panel concluded in the two-page ruling.

The panel delayed a decision on those cases against NECC in which there are multiple other defendants.

Contaminated steroids produced by NECC have been linked to 704 illnesses in 20 states. Forty-six people have died, including 14 in Tennessee.

Not unexpected

Randy Kinnard, the Nashville attorney representing several local victims and their families, said the decision was not unexpected.

He said it still was possible that after the initial discovery phase the Tennessee cases could be returned here for trial.

If the cases remain in Massachusetts, Tennessee victims and their family members could be forced to travel to Boston for the trial. But attorneys involved in the cases also said the consolidation could bring a speedier resolution.

Mark Chalos, a Nashville attorney who has been following the cases, said the decision "makes sense."

He noted that all the civil suits against NECC are on hold because the compounding firm filed for bankruptcy late last year.

The decision will have no impact on a recently filed suit against Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, the site where the local victims were injected with the fungus-tainted spinal steroid. NECC is not a defendant in that suit, filed in circuit court in Nashville.

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