Yosemite Hantavirus Lawsuits Consolidated for Pretrial Proceedings
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has decided to consolidate all lawsuits filed against the government and Yosemite National Park over a hantavirus outbreak during the summer of 2012, centralizing the cases before one judge as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
According to a transfer order (PDF) issued on June 4, at least four complaints filed throughout the federal court system will be transferred to U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney in the Northern District of California to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and courts.
The lawsuits all involve claims for damages associated with injury or death linked to a Yosemite hantavirus outbreak that first surfaced in the Signature tent cabins at Yosemite’s Curry Village in June 2012, after deer mice carrying the virus infested several areas of the park.
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Government lawyers sought consolidation of the cases, which were currently pending in U.S. District Courts in both California and Pennsylvania. In addition, the park has indicated that another five individuals are expected to bring claims over hantavirus after visiting Yosemite, which would also be centralized as part of the MDL.
Some of the plaintiffs involved in the litigation opposed the centralization, saying that it was not required given the number of cases and that the litigation was not that complex. However, some others favored the centralization occurring in federal court in Northern California.
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.
Outbreak Linked to “Signature” Cabins
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 confirming 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.
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