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Judge considers transfer of meningitis lawsuits

A $4.5 million recovery for the family of a Salem man who died of meningitis is being used as leverage to try to bring more than 20 similar cases out of Virginia and into federal court in Massachusetts.

The settlement approved Thursday in Roanoke Circuit Court is the first among hundreds of claims around the country arising from the 2012 meningitis outbreak blamed on tainted medicine from a Massachusetts laboratory.

In a hearing in a Massachusetts courtroom last week, lawyers for the lab’s bankruptcy estate and its creditors argued that all of the related cases should be brought together so all of the claimants have a fair chance at a proportionate recovery.

Pointing to the Roanoke settlement, one lawyer told the judge, “This money comes from the pockets of other plaintiffs.”

The settlement means there is “less insurance available for the good of the whole,” argued David J. Molton of New York, representing unsecured creditors of the New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc.

“Let’s bring everybody together where your honor can case manage these cases in an effective way to prevent people getting a one-up on other injured victims who have suffered horribly as a result of this outbreak,” Molton told Massachusetts U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel.

Zobel is considering a motion to transfer cases by Virginia plaintiffs against Virginia doctors and clinics to the federal courts in Massachusetts to join other claims related to the NECC case.

Three Roanoke lawyers representing meningitis plaintiffs – J. Scott Sexton, Lauren Ellerman and John Lichtenstein – argued last week against transfer. Zobel did not indicate when she would rule on the transfer motion.

Sexton’s firm represented the family of Douglas Wingate of Salem who died 12 days after being injected with a contaminated steroid preparation for treatment of neck pain.

A Roanoke clinic paid the $4.5 million to settle the claims of the Wingate family. The settlement did not involve the Massachusetts compounding pharmacy or any related businesses.

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