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Wrongful death information ruled public
A judge has ruled that the settlement amounts in four lawsuits involving a tainted heart medicine must be made public

Date published: 6/12/2007


A judge has ruled that the company that made a suspect heart medicine must disclose the amounts it paid in settlement in four wrongful death cases.

Judge Ann Hunter Simpson said yesterday that Central Admixture Pharmacy Services must make the disclosure but delayed release of the information until attorneys for the company can decide on an appeal.

Thomas A. Clare, attorney for CAPS, said that the company should decide on an appeal within 30 days.

Both CAPS and the families who sued it wanted the settlement amounts to be kept secret.

In a hearing yesterday in Spotsylvania Circuit Court, Simpson told their lawyers that their "reasons for seeking confidentiality are respected by this court."

But she added, "I am unable to give you that opportunity."

Attorneys for The Free Lance-Star and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have been trying to force release of the settlement amounts. Yesterday's decision was the third time that Simpson has ruled for the newspapers.

In earlier court hearings, she ruled that the newspapers could intervene in the case, and that CAPS was required to file a court document that contained the terms and distribution of the settlements.

Yesterday she rejected CAPS' latest argument that the required document be sealed.

The four cases are part of a cluster of lawsuits involving a tainted medi-cine given to heart-surgery patients at Mary Washington Hospital.

The patients or their survivors filed the suits in Spotsylvania Circuit Court, asking $5 million each in damages. All blamed CAPS for the bacteria found in cardioplegia, one of its medicines, used during heart-bypass surgery.

The suits also named Mary Washington, but the hospital was later dropped as a defendant.

At least seven of the cases were settled during mediation talks late last year. Now, CAPS and the widows of Ralph Holt, Albert Perreault, Richard Mulholland and William Musselman seek to keep the settlement amounts secret. The four men died after bypass surgery at Mary Washington in 2004 and 2005.

The families argued that disclosure would be upsetting and would expose them to unwanted attention.

CAPS' attorney said that the company wants privacy so that plaintiffs in other cases don't learn the settlement amounts.

"It creates expectations," Clare said. "It creates both a floor and a ceiling."

But Craig T. Merritt and Roman Lifson, attorneys for the newspapers, argued that both the Virginia Supreme Court and state legislature have long recognized the public's right of access to judicial records and a public interest in reviewing wrongful-death settlements.

Meanwhile, a new plaintiff has joined those who seek damages from CAPS, bringing to 10 the number of lawsuits filed.

Wiley M. Vasquez, 68, had heart-bypass surgery at Mary Washington on May 31, 2005. He became severely ill after the surgery and remained hospitalized through June 12, 2005.

He is the fourth plaintiff who claims injury from the medicine. Six of the cases have been filed by the families of patients who died.

Vasquez filed his suit May 22. He has named CAPS, its parent company, B. Braun Medical, and the hospital.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433
Email: jhall@freelancestar.com