November 12, 2012 — As the number of fungal meningitis lawsuits continues to grow, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) appears likely to centralize the litigation into one federal district court. The New England Compounding Center (NECC) has responded in support of a motion to centralize the litigation, and the JPML will likely select a venue within the next few months.
NECC is a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy at the heart of a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis and joint infections linked to contaminated epidural steroid injections (mostly methylprednisolone acetate, used to treat back pain). As of today, nearly 450 people have fallen ill and 32 have died in 19 states. Although the medicines were recalled at the end of September, new infections continue to be reported because the fungus has a prolonged incubation period.
As the number of new infections has slowed to a trickle, the litigation is rapidly expanding. NECC reported that they are aware of 28 lawsuits (including 5 class actions) which have been filed in seven district courts in five states. According to NECC’s motion to centralize the litigation, “New lawsuits are being filed daily,” and “NECC estimates that hundreds of additional personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits will eventually be filed.”
In addition to the people who were infected with fungal meningitis, it is likely that thousands of people who were exposed but did not get sick will also join the litigation. Nearly 20,000 people were injected with tainted methylprednisolone acetate. Once these people were notified, many suffered severe anxiety, expensive medical evaluations, lost wages, and painful spinal taps to check for fungus in their cerebrospinal fluid.
It is likely that the JPML will soon decide where to centralize the litigation. NECC has requested Massachusetts, because their company is headquartered in that state. The movants have requested Minnesota, due to its central location for hundreds of potential plaintiffs throughout the United States.
In the coming months, the JPML will likely create a Multi-district Litigation (MDL). This allows one judge to oversee lawsuits with similar legal questions, injuries, and questions of fact. It also helps expedite a resolution.