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Did medical malpractice play a role in meningitis outbreak?

Readers in Mt. Laurel have likely been following the developing story regarding the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis. The growing problem is linked to a tainted steroid made by a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in the northeast. In all, the outbreak has caused at least 250 reported cases and over 20 deaths - although those numbers seem to grow every day. Reports indicate that the steroid was used to inject thousands of people in 16 states, including many here New Jersey.

As a result of the outbreak, some commentators believe it is only a matter of time until numerous lawsuits begin targeting those at fault. In fact, two have already been filed in New Jersey. Those lawsuits name the clinic at which the patients received the injection and the doctors who performed the injection in addition to the manufacturer. The lawsuit alleges that each defendants were negligent as well as product liability claims.

Generally, medical malpractice laws require that the health care providers - including doctors and the medical facility - act negligently and outside the accepted standard of care. Because the recent outbreak is still developing, the merits of the current claims are unclear.

The manufacturer of the tainted steroids, New England Compounding Center, has been the focus of discussion of liability, but questions will be asked of care providers as well. Information gathered during investigations will be vital to determining whether doctor errors played a role in the development of the disease in some patients. For example, if a doctor knows of a risk related to a certain drug but moves forward with its use, that medical professional may be liable for any problems that develop as a result of that decision. Compensation from any settlement or judgment can help cover medical costs and lost wages.

Observers will continue to watch the developments and monitor the outbreak's effect here in New Jersey. When the dust settles and those affected have received the necessary treatment, the spotlight may well turn to discussions of compensation dictated by the unfortunate outbreak.

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

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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