Dozens of lawyers filled a Clark County courtroom Thursday in the first hearing related to the slew of lawsuits filed in connection with the hepatitis C cases linked to a Las Vegas endoscopy clinic.
Roughly 40 lawyers, representing patients, doctors and the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, were on hand for the morning gathering before District Judge Allan Earl, who handles complex litigation cases. The day before, Chief District Judge Kathy Hardcastle ordered the more than 50 cases be moved to Earl's court for all evidentiary matters and other pretrial issues.
The decision was made because the cases were scattered among as many as 20 different judicial departments. By moving the cases to one court, they will have consistent rulings and will move through the system faster, Earl said.
The cases could still go to trial before their originally assigned judges, he said.
"We're likely dealing with thousands upon thousands of potential plaintiffs," Earl said.
Health officials have said at least six people contracted hepatitis C during procedures at the clinic because staff contaminated single-use vials of medication and used them among multiple patients. The Southern Nevada Health District has urged 40,000 clinic patients to get tested for possible exposure to hepatitis and HIV.
At an afternoon hearing, lawyers for patients said they had agreed to support a single class-action case for the thousands of Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada patients who were not infected because of unsafe medical practices.
The lawyers, including Ed Bernstein and Robert Eglet, made the agreement because the single case was the first filed and was simpler, involving just two plaintiffs and one defendant, the endoscopy clinic, said Will Kemp, a veteran class-action case lawyer who filed the first class-action suit related to the outbreak.
The lawyers also plan to work together to create a model lawsuit complaint for cases involving infected patients.
Lawyers estimate they already have 225 clients who have tested positive for hepatitis or HIV.
No hearing date was set to argue about certifying the class action lawsuit. An April 28 hearing was set on motions to prevent the doctors or their corporations from transferring assets.
In the next week or so, Earl plans to appoint a lawyer as a special master to settle evidentiary disputes and other issues that come up. A special master is available on short notice, so the cases can move forward faster.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0281.