Ruling clears way for first trials in hepatitis outbreak to proceed

A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday lifted the hold that threatened to delay the first civil trials in the hepatitis outbreak.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mike Nakagawa’s decision clears the way for the first three trials involving the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and its sister clinics.

Those cases, filed by patients who believe they were infected with blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices, were automatically postponed when the clinics declared bankruptcy July 17.

The first trial, set for Oct. 19, involves Michael Washington, a retired military veteran infected with hepatitis C.

Two other trials in December and January also were allowed to proceed. Seven other cases with trial dates in March and beyond will remain on hold.

At an Aug. 26 hearing, lawyers for infected clinic patients argued that the civil lawsuits should be allowed to go forward, especially since they were so close to trial.

But lawyers for bankruptcy trustee Brian Shapiro, who is responsible for ensuring that creditors — including suing patients — get their fair share of the clinic assets, said the civil cases should be delayed so that he had more time to collect information about the companies’ assets.

Shapiro’s legal team also argued that the companies’ malpractice insurance policies could be quickly drained by the first group of patients to win their lawsuits, leaving no money for patients with later trials.

Lawyers for the patients said that wouldn’t happen because any judgments would be handled by the state court or the bankruptcy judge later on.

In 2008, public health officials warned 50,000 Endoscopy Center patients that they might have been exposed to hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices at the clinic.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

 

 

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