By: Austin Kirk | Published: February 15th, 2013
All fungal meningitis outbreak lawsuits filed against the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in the federal court system will be transferred to the District of Massachusetts for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
According to an order (PDF) issued by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation (JPML) on February 12, complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the United States on behalf of individuals who contracted fungal meningitis or other infections after being injected with NECC epidural steroid injections will be consolidated before U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV.
The consolidation immediately affects four cases, with two each pending in the Eastern District of Michigan and the District of Minnesota. However, the JPML indicated that there are another 120 related cases that have been identified for transfer into the fungal meningitis MDL, and as lawyers continue to file lawsuits on behalf of individuals who received the contaminated injections, they will also be transferred to Judge Saylor in Massachusetts.
Meningitis Outbreak Killed Dozens, Likely to Cause Hundreds of Lawsuits
The complaints stem from a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that killed more than 40 people and sickened hundreds of people throughout the United States. The infections were traced back to thousands of contaminated epidural steroid injections distributed by NECC. The pharmacy has been shut down since October, after it was identified as the source of the outbreak and a recall was issued for all drugs compounded by the pharmacy.
The epidural steroid injection recall issued in early October affected about 17,000 vials distributed to 23 states. Some government estimates suggest that 14,000 patients in the U.S. were injected with the potentially contaminated vials. An FDA inspection of the company’s Framingham, Massachusetts facility found sealed vials of the drugs with visible fungus floating in them.
The company has declared bankruptcy under the weight of the anticipated litigation and in late January a federal judge froze the company’s assets to keep its owners from making money from it.
The creation of an NECC fungal meningitis MDL means that all lawsuits filed in federal court will be consolidated for pre-trial proceedings. However, if the parties fail to reach a settlement or otherwise resolve the litigation, the cases will be remanded back to their districts of origin and be resolved through individual trials.
The MDL is designed to reduce duplicative discovery proceedings, avoid contradictory rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts. Both plaintiffs and defendants supported the creation of the MDL, though they disagreed where it should be located, with some plaintiffs calling for the litigation to be centralized in Minnesota.
“We conclude that the District of Massachusetts is an appropriate transferee district,” the JPML ruled. “The principal events giving rise to the alleged claims occurred in Massachusetts, the facility at which the contamination allegedly occurred is located there, and the federal and state investigations into New England Compounding Pharmacy are focused there.”