A district judge Monday approved a settlement of 18 medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from the Las Vegas hepatitis C outbreak.
The settlement with 18 former patients of the clinics blamed for the outbreak was made by Nevada Mutual Insurance Co. on behalf of doctors and nurse anesthetists who handled their treatment.
Although the cases are a fraction of the roughly 250 filed against the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, its sister clinics and medical workers, Nevada Mutual Insurance’s lawyer said this settlement could lead to many more.
“This starts the ball rolling,” Nathan Arrington said.
The settlement amount was confidential. Nevada law limits pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases to $350,000.
Lawyer Gerald Gillock, who represents all 18 plaintiffs, said the settlement was the result of four months of negotiations and nearly two years of legal wrangling with lawyers for the clinics, doctors and others.
“It’s been a long road to get to this juncture,” Gillock said.
The settlement saves thousands of dollars in future legal costs and more than a year in court time by avoiding the medical malpractice trials, he said.
The settlement dismisses all medical workers from the lawsuits, including Dr. Dipak Desai, who was the doctor in seven of the 18 cases. The 18 lawsuits will go forward with product liability claims against the drug makers who produced propofol, the anesthetic used at the clinics.
Gillock’s group included four of the nine genetically linked hepatitis C cases, including one case set for trial in October.
Desai’s lawyer, Kurt Melchior of San Francisco, objected to the settlement, saying his client never approved of it.
None of the other doctors or nurse anesthetists objected.
Melchior called the settlement an effort to exhaust the malpractice insurance coverage limits, which would leave the thousands of remaining plaintiffs with a smaller pot to collect from.
“They just cannot pay out their policy limits and run,” Melchior said of Nevada Mutual Insurance.
The settlement was also opposed by Brian Shapiro, the bankruptcy trustee for the Endoscopy Center and its sister clinics.
His goal is to reach a settlement that will satisfy all of the former patients who have sued the clinics, he said. Any settlements on behalf of a smaller group reduces the amount of money left for the others, he said.
After hearing all the arguments, District Judge Allan Earl approved the settlement, saying it was reached in good faith.
But before any of the patients get paid, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mike Nakagawa must rule on whether the medical workers’ malpractice payouts belong to the clinics’ bankruptcy estate.
If he rules they do, the plaintiffs must ask him to approve the claim reached under the settlement. But if he rules they don’t, the settlement would be paid, Gillock said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.