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Rhode Island among states hit by meningitis outbreak

The media has been ablaze of late with news of the ongoing meningitis outbreak spreading across the nation with as many as 16 states affected thus far, including Rhode Island. The outbreak has been traced to a drug compounding pharmacy called New England Compounding Center, and the latest reports claim as many as 300 cases have been reported with almost two dozen deaths associated with the product so far. The problem has already produced a number of lawsuits, including product liability, pharmacy negligence and even two medical malpractice claims filed against clinics that administered the contaminated drugs to two patients.

The medical malpractice angle may be difficult to prove as many state laws protect healthcare service providers from product liability related litigation. In this case, the plaintiff's would have to prove that the doctors administering the tainted steroids were negligent and failed to act within the expected standards of care. Many personal injury attorneys say that it is difficult to prove claims against healthcare providers when they use faulty medical products unless they had prior knowledge of or should have known the products were defective. That is not stopping the increasing number of lawsuits from transpiring, with a dozen already filed across the country as of this report.

The lawsuits thus far include malpractice on the part of the pharmacists and negligence and product liability claims among others. Lawsuits have been filed across several jurisdictions in state courts, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and New Jersey with more sure to follow as the number of patients infected continues to rise. The various jurisdictions involved further complicate matters as the legal definitions for product liability, malpractice, negligence and wrongful death vary from state to state. Some of the lawsuits are claiming class-action status which could wind up covering thousands of people affected by the outbreak.

When a person is injured or killed by the negligent or reckless actions of an individual or entity, such as a pharmacy or hospital that is expected to adhere to a standard level of expected care and quality, that person or company responsible for any injuries should be held accountable. In the case of the meningitis outbreak, a number of defendants have already been named in various lawsuits, from the pharmacists involved in compounding the steroids to executive officers and owners of the company all the way to some of the doctors and medical staff who administered the medications. Just where the courts will find fault will be interesting to watch.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Legal problems could multiply in meningitis outbreak," Jay Fitzgerald, Oct. 21, 2012

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