Yosemite Hantavirus Lawsuit Centralization Sought by U.S. Gov’t

The government is asking a panel of federal judges to consolidate all lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country that involve allegations that plaintiffs contracted hantavirus at Yosemite National Park, seeking centralization of the litigation before one judge for pretrial proceedings.  

On February 24, attorneys for the U.S. government filed a motion (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), seeking to create an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, in the Eastern District of California.

At least four Yosemite hantavirus lawsuits have been filed by individuals who seek damage associated with an injury or death after staying in signature tent cabins at Yosemite’s Curry Village during the summer of 2012. In addition, the government indicates that at least five other individuals who are known to have been diagnosed with hantavirus after visiting Yosemite are likely to file claims.

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The Yosemite hantavirus outbreak first surfaced in about June 2012, after deer mice carrying the virus infested several areas of the park.

All of the complaints involve similar allegations that the National Park Service knew or should have known the risk of a hantavirus outbreak, should have worked to prevent the spread of the virus, and failed to warn visitors to the park about the risks.

Government attorneys argue that, despite the small number of cases, centralization would serve the convenience of the court, the parties and witnesses. The petition claims that the cases all deal with similar legal questions of fact and law, indicating that centralization will prevent duplicative discovery and conflicting rulings.

Hantavirus infections are transferred to humans when they breathe air contaminated with the virus or come in contact with deer mouse saliva, urine or droppings infected with it. The deer mouse is native to the central and western United States and Canada.

Hantavirus infections can incubate for up to six weeks until common symptoms appear. Early symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches, stomach problems, dizziness and chills, which are often confused with influenza and may go undiagnosed or treated. As a result, the virus has a mortality rate of about 38 percent.

Park workers tracked the outbreak to the “Signature” cabins of Curry Village in Yosemite, where they found that mice had been nesting in the insulation in the vicinity of sleeping campers.

A report by the Yosemite Hantavirus Outbreak Investigation Team was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases and confirmed the earlier suspicions, noting that those cabins differed from regular tent cabins, because they had an interior wall and roof that had a layer of foam insulation between the drywall and the exterior canvas. There were numerous gaps for deer mice to get into the cabin walls and nest, spreading the hantavirus to those within.

The cabins have since been dismantled and workers at the park have made changes to reduce the risk of rodent infestation in other buildings.

Photo Courtesy of MiguelVieira via Flickr/CC 2.0

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