BOSTON (AP) — A pharmacy connected to a deadly nationwide meningitis outbreak filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday and said it was seeking to set up a fund to pay victims.
Contaminated steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center have been blamed for 39 deaths and 620 illnesses since the outbreak began over the summer. The Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court shields the company from the threat of creditor lawsuits while it establishes the fund.
The company said in its filing that 130 lawsuits have been filed against it and 270 other people have claimed injury from the tainted drugs.
"The number or lawsuits and demands is rising on a daily basis," the filing read. "The sheer volume and wide geographic distribution of cases — bringing the prospect of chaotic, conflicting and value-destroying pretrial orders and remedies — has necessitated commencing this case at this time."
NECC, based in Framingham, just west of Boston, said it has hired accountant Keith D. Lowey to lead the effort to set up the compensation fund.
"The Company's goal is to provide a greater, quicker, fairer and less expensive payout to its creditors than they could achieve through piecemeal litigation," the filing read.
In a statement, Lowey said, "Many families across the U.S. have been impacted by this great tragedy, and it is difficult to comprehend the sense of loss so many people have experienced."
"Everyone associated with New England Compounding Center shares that sense of loss," Lowey said. "We recognize the need to compensate those affected by the meningitis outbreak fairly and appropriately."
Attorney Kimberly Dougherty, whose firm represents 30 plaintiffs, said NECC lawyers have said they intend to "do the right thing" for outbreak victims.
"We are hopeful the defendants mean what they say," she said. "If they do mean that, we can all work together and resolve these things as quickly as we can."
Dougherty said NECC has made it clear it doesn't have enough money to fully compensate victims "to the level and degree of their injury." She said her firm inspected the pharmacy before the bankruptcy filing and believes it has discovered other parties that might be liable, but she said she couldn't name them.