Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 5, 2013

Lawsuits mount after meningitis outbreak


CNHI

— TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Two northern Michigan women who became seriously ill from contaminated steroid shots are suing the drug's manufacturer, and 34 other area residents are preparing similar lawsuits, according to their attorneys.

Phyllis Briggs, of Interlochen, and Barbara Ann Smoot, of Honor, are the latest to sue New England Compounding Center and others after a national outbreak of fungal meningitis that sickened nearly 700 people and lead to 45 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Framingham, Mass., pharmacy that is blamed for marketing the contaminated steroid shots filed for bankruptcy in December.

Briggs received two tainted injections in June and September 2012 at Neuromuscular & Rehabilitation Associates in Traverse City, according to court records and interviews with attorneys. She later was diagnosed with a fungal infection and spent six days in a hospital intensive care unit, court records state.

Smoot received a steroid shot in her lower back from the same clinic in August. She suffered severe back pain, was rushed to the hospital, and endured multiple surgeries. She eventually was placed in a convalescent home.

"They were seriously injured," said local attorney Mark Dancer, who along with attorney Dan Meyers represents the women. The attorneys said more cases are coming on behalf of multiple residents of the Grand Traverse region who received tainted injections.

"We have 34 different plaintiffs, and so far we've only filed suit on behalf of two of them," Dancer said. "There are different levels of injury and damages. Some of them were hospitalized for many days."

The women's lawsuits are among hundreds filed nationwide as a result of the contaminated injections. Potential claims against the pharmacy are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The company has said it plans to create a fund for victims as part of its bankruptcy process.

Michigan is among the hardest-hit states from the meningitis outbreak, with 243 cases and a dozen deaths, according to the CDC. The outbreak was more fatal in Tennessee, which so far has reported 147 cases and 14 deaths.

A Michigan attorney listed as the pharmacy's representative referred questions to a New York City law office, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Symptoms of meningitis include fever, new or worsening headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, new weakness or numbness, increasing pain, redness or swelling at injection site. Tainted injections also are linked to joint infections and epidural abscesses.

Dancer said the Traverse City clinic was not named as a defendant in the local lawsuits because it "didn't do anything wrong."



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Gelnn Puit writes for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Mich.