Meningitis outbreak: health & legal implications

We’ve been following the news about the national meningitis outbreak, which was recently confirmed to have been tied to the New England Compounding Center’s distribution of (contaminated) steroid injection materials. While the exact scope of the medical costs and/or suffering has been not comprehensively discussed – let alone determined – the steroid injections were distributed to at least 20 states, and the number of patients with confirmed cases of meningitis due to steroid injection is climbing, as is the number of those reported to be at risk for contracting meningitis. Just as scary as the lack of authoritative knowledge concerning this public health crisis is information about the prognosis that already-infected or at-risk patients have to look forward to.

The Tennessean’s recent article “Legal options complicated for meningitis injection victims” cited authorities as indicating that “survivors of more common forms of meningitis report being in the hospital from a week to a month.” The fact that this is not just ‘typical’ meningitis, combined with the extremely high cost incurred by week to month-long hospital stays is a very, very scary consideration when it comes to the financial burden. (Hall, 2012)

How will patients’ insurance companies respond to these associated costs? Moreover, how will providers answer the reasonable question some individuals are now asking: should patients have any financial obligation to pay for either the steroid injection (which put them at risk for contracting the disease) or for the potential or actual hospital bills such treatment made possible in the first place?

A spokesperson for Medicare recently indicated that it will cover expenses from the outbreak to its subscribers, according to The Tennessean. The spokesman indicated that this obligation is a function of a provision that necessitates providers to bill liability insurance, not Medicare, in certain malpractice cases.

For patients subscribed with other providers, the issue, unfortunately, appears to be decided in the courts on more of a case-by-case basis. Personal injury lawsuit experts such as John Day advise patients to communicate with their lawyers regarding the financial burdens of the outbreak. The legal strategies for dealing with this issue is complicated and varied. For instance, one woman who was reportedly at risk for meningitis but has not contracted it decided to take the fight directly to the responsible party: the New England Compounding Center: she is seeking a class-action status for her and other victims within her state.

The jurisdiction under which suits are being filed is critical: states are not uniform with respect to liability (as in determining the liability of the doctors vs. the liability of the distributor of tainted medical products). In Tenn., state law would not and could not find liability for the medical professions that administer the steroid injections responsible for the meningitis risk because all liability would be placed on the New England Compounding Center for its failure to oversee the safety of their medical products.

Given the scope of the risk here (remember, 20+ states were distributed the tainted steroid injection materials), and differences in state law, the best thing victims can is to contact their attorneys. This is necessary in order to see how their state determines liability in these types of cases. Only then can a determination be made as to who to pursue in terms of compensation for any incurred medical costs.

For victims who reside in Pennsylvania and received steroid injections putting them at risk to develop meningitis (or have already contracted it), we strongly urge you to contact us and schedule a free consultation.

References

Hall, H. (2012, October 15). Legal options complicated for meningitis injection victims. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from The Tennessean: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20121016/BUSINESS13/310160038/Legal-options-complicated-meningitis-injection-victims?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CBusiness%7Cs

 

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With more than 40 years of combined experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and throughout the Keystone State.

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