BRISTOL, Ind. (AP) — The family of a northern Indiana man who died of fungal meningitis last month is suing the Massachusetts specialty pharmacy that produced tainted medication linked to the deadly nationwide outbreak of the disease.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed this week in an Elkhart County court by the family of Daniel Rohrer, a 68-year-old Bristol man who died Oct. 23 at an Elkhart hospital. Richard Crowder, the family's attorney, said Thursday that he thinks it is the first wrongful death lawsuit filed in Indiana linked to the outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 386 cases in 19 states, including 28 deaths, to the rare disease.
Elkhart County's health officer has said all three of Indiana's fungal meningitis deaths are linked to the county, which is east of South Bend and borders Michigan.
The family's complaint names the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass., which produced the tainted steroid blamed for the outbreak. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses the pharmacy of negligence, saying it should have known the steroid was contaminated and should have warned patients as soon as it found out. It seeks compensation for burial and medical expenses, lost income, and emotional and punitive damages.
Crowder said Daniel Rohrer and Diana Rohrer, his wife of 43 years, operated a lawn care business.
"All these people had chronic health conditions, chronic pain, they were being treated for these chronic pain conditions and they died from the treatment," Crowder told The Associated Press.
Andrew Paven, a spokesman for the Massachusetts company, said Rohrer's isn't the first wrongful death lawsuit filed over the tainted steroids, and that the company won't comment about pending litigation.
Another victim of the outbreak whose family has sued the pharmacy returned to school this week, but faces a long recovery from the rare illness while her mother braces for big medical bills.
Karissa Klemm, 16, resumed classes Wednesday at Northridge High School in Middlebury. But she didn't make it through the entire school day because the antifungal medications she now takes leave her woozy and prone to exhaustion.
Klemm, who lives in Bristol, said her friends were happy to see her but didn't fully understand that she's still recovering from the illness.
"They think because I'm out of the hospital that I'm 100 percent better, but that's not the case," she told The Elkhart Truth for a Thursday story.
The teenager must take antifungal medications twice a day for at least the next three months, but her doctors said that treatment could be extended for up to a year.
A spinal tap revealed she had fungal meningitis after she sought treatment at Elkhart General Hospital. Klemm had been receiving spinal injections every three or four months to treat pain from a back injury. Her most recent injection, in September, was administered at OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart. That clinic was one of six in Indiana that received contaminated medications from a Massachusetts specialty pharmacy.
Klemm, who's one of 48 people in Indiana who contracted fungal meningitis from tainted steroid injections made by the specialty pharmacy, could be the state's youngest patient with illness.
Tracy Klemm filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter on Oct. 25 against the New England Compounding Center.
She said the antifungal medications her daughter is now taking are costing an estimated $4,000 a month and she's expecting her hospital bill to be exorbitant.
Also Thursday, the Indiana attorney general's office said the New England Compounding Center had agreed to an indefinite suspension of its license to operate in Indiana. The agreement followed an emergency petition filed by the agency last week asking the Indiana Board of Pharmacy to suspend the license of the company, which has shut down production.