Wayne Reed, left, lost his wife, Diana, to fungal meningitis. Lawyers have dropped Nashville lawsuits filed on behalf of Reed, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other local victims. They plan to refile the claims against multiple parties in a pending federal court case in Massachusetts. / Alan Poizner / For The Tennessean / File
Written by Walter F. Roche Jr., The Tennessean
In an abrupt reversal, lawyers for local victims of the fungal meningitis outbreak have dropped suits filed in Nashville against the local clinic where the patients were treated and plan to refile the claims against multiple parties in a pending federal court case in Massachusetts.
Formal notices of voluntary dismissal were filed today in circuit court in Nashville in four cases, including the one filed by Wayne Reed, a disabled Nashville man, who lost his wife and primary caregiver in the meningitis outbreak.
"We're going to sue all the responsible parties," said Bill Leader, one of Reed's lawyers.
Previously the attorneys for victims had stated that they wanted the cases to be tried in Nashville before a jury of local residents. They also argued that they did not want any damage awards against the local clinic to have to be shared with other victims.
The reversal comes as key depositions were about to begin in the suits filed against the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.
Leader said the switch from local courts to federal court was necessary so that the victims could make claims against all the responsible parties, including the Massachusetts drug compounding firm that produced the spinal steroid blamed for the outbreak.
The suits filed in Nashville did not name the compounder, the New England Compounding Center, as a defendant. NECC filed for bankruptcy late last year. Dozens of suits against the firm have been consolidated before a single federal judge in Boston.
The action brought a sharp reply from the attorney for Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.
"At every hearing with the media in attendance, the lawyers that filed three of the suits pledged their absolute commitment to rapid completion of pre-trial discovery, the central importance of their product liability claims to each case, and their commitment to the trial of each of these cases in Nashville. Today, the attorneys voluntarily dismissed each case. Their conduct does not match the made-for-media narrative," C. J. Gideon wrote in an email.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 58 patients, including 15 in Tennessee, have died from fungal meningitis as a result of the outbreak blamed on NECC.
Recently the federal judge presiding over the cases in Massachusetts ruled that while most of the cases against NECC and related parties could be consolidated in his court, he did not believe he had the authority to merge the four Nashville cases into cases consolidated in his court.