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Meningitis outbreak: medical malpractice or products liability?

As the meningitis outbreak continues to grow in Michigan and throughout the U.S., victims of this disease and their survivors are beginning to sue those who were involved with administering the contaminated steroid injections.

So far, 23 people have died and about 300 people have been infected with fungal meningitis after receiving tainted pain medication. In the aftermath, people are struggling to hold whoever is responsible for the outbreak accountable--targeting the physicians and clinics who administered the shots as well as the pharmacy that is linked to the outbreak. A recent news report suggests that the future of these lawsuits depends on whether judges believe these cases fall under products liability or medical malpractice laws.

Under products liability law, in most states, hospitals and doctors could be sued and held responsible for essentially selling a defective and dangerous product. This may be the case even though neither the hospitals nor the doctors had any intent to harm patients with these injections. In some states, however, products liability claims against doctors and hospitals are not allowed.

If courts, however, define the injections as a service rather than as products that were sold, these cases might fall under medical malpractice laws, which can be a more difficult area in which to prove liability. This is because under medical malpractice laws, negligence has to be proven and in the case of the tainted steroids this might mean showing that the doctor or hospital failed to properly ensure the safety of these steroids.

Of course, the pharmacy at the center of the outbreak has already been targeted in numerous lawsuits, but this is a small company and it has been questioned whether its pockets are deep enough to properly compensate all of the victims. Victims here in Michigan have already sued the pharmacy, according to Reuters.

Because state laws regarding medical malpractice and products liability vary, the outcomes of these lawsuits could vary from state to state. Those who are seeking justice in any personal injury or wrongful death case are often wise to work with experienced legal counsel who will strive for the best possible outcome.

Source: Reuters, "Analysis: Meningitis suits may turn on how injections are defined," Nick Brown, Oct. 24, 2012

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