A new article from the Boston Globe underscores the importance of financial compensation for victims of serious drug injuries. The article focuses on the fungal meningitis outbreak last year traced to tainted injections that came from New England Compounding Center. The tainted shots were largely steroid injections intended to treat pain; the article opens with the story of Dee Morell, who got the shot in order to help with arthritis in her hip. But the shot made things worse for Morell, not better; she had trouble walking, needed constant painkillers, and has not been able to work for most of the past year, causing great financial strain. She is one of the 619 people who have filed legal claims against NECC—but because the pharmacy filed for bankruptcy last year, their claims and their hopes for relief are in legal limbo.
The Globe called the outbreak one of the largest in American history. Federal authorities believe about 14,000 people around the United States received the tainted shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 64 people died out of the 750 who developed fungal meningitis, a serious disease causing fever, vomiting and altered mental status. The contamination was traced to NECC, which voluntarily recalled all of the products from its Framingham, Mass. plant. Federal investigators who visited the plant found clear contamination problems: dirty equipment and black material floating in some drug vials. They also found evidence that NECC personnel knew about the contamination and failed to properly test their shipments. Plaintiffs’ attorneys say thousands of patients could step forward to sue—for which they now have a deadline of January 15.
But NECC filed for bankruptcy a year ago, saying it had just $1.3 million in cash at the time. This raises serious questions about how victims will be compensated. A verdict in just one tainted drug lawsuit could be that much. Victims may also recover up to $29 million from NECC’s insurers and up to $21 million in profits paid to corporate officers in 2012. But all of this money is tied up in NECC’s bankruptcy, As a result, says the newspaper, some defective drug attorneys are looking for other organizations that could be liable, including NECC’s owners and other companies owned by them. Some lawyers are also looking to the health care providers who gave the injections, or companies that designed NECC’s clean room, cleaned it, or tested the drugs. It’s not clear whether or when these other defendants might get involved.
The article ends with a telling personal story from victim Mary Jo Tolbert of Michigan. Tolbert, 82, suffered kidney failure, was hospitalized for three weeks, and took months to recover from her illness. That’s exactly why it’s so important for drug companies to be scrupulous about contamination—and why, when they fail, it’s important to hold them legally liable for their actions. Pharmaceutical liability lawsuits can’t bring those 64 people back or erase the health consequences for other victims, but they can send the message that society disapproves of sloppiness that innocent patients pay for, some with their lives. I look forward to hearing how the bankruptcy court will resolve this flood of claims.
If you or someone you love suffered an illness or injury from taking a drug that was supposed to help, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. You can reach us through our website or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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