Although the source of a recent meningitis outbreak has been traced back to the New England Compounding Center, the impending legal process doesn't figure to be nearly as swift - or as clear. While plaintiffs are gearing up with lawsuits to secure compensation for the infections and, in many cases, tragic outcomes, it is not readily clear how the courts will determine the outbreak itself - and those decisions will greatly impact the results of the legal process.
Although a contaminated steroid injection was distributed and administered to patients in Arizona and elsewhere across the United States, including the Greater Cincinnati area, determining fault precisely could be a fluid and less than exact matter. Although the compounding center itself was responsible for causing the infection, hospitals and clinics could be on the hook for a number of medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits.
But it's unclear whether the courts will decide that the injections are a product - and therefore subject to product liability lawsuits - or services administered by the health care facility. In either case, the hospital facilities could be liable due to hospital negligence, but the definition will affect how the legal process plays out. The burden of proof is different in product liability and medical negligence cases, respectively. As a result, it's expected that plaintiffs will in a number of cases file both product liability and medical malpractice complaints.
So far, 29 individuals have reportedly died after receiving the injections, with another 400-plus being infected. It is estimated that up to 14,000 people were exposed to meningitis through the injections.
Source: Insurance Journal, "Meningitis lawsuits: Product liability or medical malpractice?" Nick Brown, Oct. 24, 2012
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