Wayne Reed, left, lost his wife, Diana, to fungal meningitis, which is suspected to have been caused by a steroid shot. Lawyers have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Reed, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. / Alan Poizner / For The Tennessean
Written by Walter F. Roche Jr., The Tennessean
Warning that his clients don't have the luxury of time, a lawyer for local victims of the lethal fungal meningitis outbreak pleaded with a Nashville judge to do nothing to slow the progress of ongoing litigation for the victims.
"Wayne Reed can't walk. He's confined to a wheelchair and he can barely speak," George Nolan, his attorney, told presiding Judge Joe P. Binkley Jr. in a Friday hearing.
Nolan was arguing against a motion filed by attorneys for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center to place the three current local meningitis cases and any future ones before a single judge.
Lela Hollabaugh, an attorney for Saint Thomas Health, said that with the number of cases certain to increase, some consolidation was required just to handle the pretrial motions.
"It just doesn't make sense," she said, to have all the cases proceed separately, adding that it appeared that at least eight more attorneys will become involved on behalf of additional victims.
The local cases stem from a national fungal meningitis outbreak that is being blamed on the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center, which shipped fungus-tainted steroids to 23 states. The outbreak has killed 14 people who were treated in Tennessee and sickened 150.
Binkley, who heard the arguments during the lunch break for an ongoing malpractice case, promised to act quickly but said he first needed to confer with other circuit and chancery court judges "to see who might be willing...."
But he never finished the sentence.
"I know what you want," Binkley told the attorneys, asking them to make their arguments succinct.
Nolan noted that Reed suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease. His wife, Diana, who died in the outbreak, was his primary caregiver. "He is in a terrible situation," Nolan said.
He said another of his clients, who is in her 80s, has had her life devastated by "this disease."
Any delay, Nolan said, "would not be in the best interest of these folks. We need to proceed as swiftly as possible."
Arguing for the consolidation of the current and future cases, Hollabaugh noted that any additional claims would have to be filed by October at the latest due to the statute of limitations on such claims.
And C.J. Gideon, attorney for the clinic, argued that consolidating the local cases might actually speed things up.
"We're not trying to slow-walk anything," Gideon said.
Nolan also warned against delaying action on the local cases while a federal judge in Boston decides whether all the related cases, even those that don't name the manufacturer of the tainted drugs as a defendant, be merged in a single case.