Lawyers for the Saint Thomas health companies urged a federal judge in Boston Wednesday to throw out nearly all the claims filed on behalf of dozens of Tennessee victims of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak, charging that the claims failed to meet the requirements of Tennessee laws.
Chris Tardio, one of the Saint Thomas lawyers, told U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel that some 43 cases should be dismissed because the complaints did not meet notice and other requirements of the state health care liability law. Though the suits were filed under the state product liability statute, Tardio argued that lawyers for the victims were trying to make the cases seem like something that they weren't.
He said yet another dozen cases should be dismissed outright.
The court session was the first to focus solely on the Tennessee victims. A total of 153 patients treated in Tennessee were sickened in the 2013 outbreak, and 16 died. Nationwide, 751 patients were sickened and 64 died.
"The product liability law does not apply," Tardio said, adding that the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, where the local victims were treated, did not sell a product but provided a service.
"These are direct negligence cases," countered Mark Chalos, one of the Nashville attoneys representing plaintiffs in the case.
Chalos also said plaintiffs have yet to get records needed to determine exactly what went on in the outpatient clinic and its relationship with the Saint Thomas companies.
Gerard Stranch, another plaintiff attorney, said there was no justification for dismissing the cases. He said the Saint Thomas companies and Ascension Health drew revenue from the outpatient clinic.
Marcy Greer, another Saint Thomas attorney, argued that the Saint Thomas companies could not be sued in the case because the Saint Thomas Network has only 50 percent ownership of the outpatient clinic where the shots of methylprednisolone acetate were administered.
"We shouldn't be here," she said.
Greer said attempts by the victims' lawyers to "pierce the corporate veil" and hold several other related nonprofits, including the parent, Ascension Health, liable should be rejected.
"They are not trying to make a profit," she said.
Chalos countered by providing the judge with a series of exhibits depicting a recent Saint Thomas advertising campaign and its widely placed slogan, "One Name, One Healing Community."
He noted that Dr. John Culclasure, the physician who administered most of the spinal injections, carried an ID card which stated it had been issued by a Saint Thomas company.
Zobel took the motions under advisement.