A judge ruled Monday to consolidate the cases against University Hospitals in the fertility clinic catastrophe that left 4,000 eggs and embryos destroyed.
The ruling stated the decision was made because the lawsuits all have common issues and the parties are essentially the same; all the actions involved have a common question of law or fact regarding the March 3 incident at the UH fertility clinic.
Despite the consolidation, each case will maintain its "separate identity." While this decision was made as a matter of convenience, it "does not merge the suits into a single cause, or change the rights of the parties or make those who are parties in one suit parties in another."
Any future cases filed in this incident will also be included in the consolidation. By consolidating, the process of litigating these cases becomes more streamlined and efficient without having to seek class action status.
"The best thing about this ruling today is that UH is out of excuses for failing to answer any of these lawsuits," said plaintiff's attorney Tom Merriman. "For the past several weeks, they’ve been saying, 'we don’t want to file an answer until consolidation has been ruled upon.' Okay, here we are UH. Put up or shut up."
Merriman's firm, Landskroner Grieco Merriman, LLC, represents more than 150 UH patients. So far, 40 separate lawsuits have been filed against the hospital system since the catastrophic meltdown at its fertility clinic in early March. Merriman's clients will not be partaking in the class action lawsuit against UH. Instead, his clients' cases will maintain their individual status.
Class action lawsuits can take up to a year to reach 'class action' status. Additionally, the appellate process can be long and arduous, causing the cases to drag on for several years.
"These folks, their loss is so profoundly personal, we believe they need to be heard by a jury to be fully appreciated so that their damages can be properly assessed," Merriman said. "All of the lawyers on our team have spent hours and hours and hours with patients who have lost their embryos and have lost their eggs. I doubt the lawyers from UH have ever sat down with a couple and talked to them about what they’ve gone through."
Throughout the bevy of civil suits, attorneys representing UH have not filed formal responses to the civil complaints. Instead, the hospital's legal team sought extensions so that consolidation could be ruled upon first. With consolidation having been decided, Merriman said UH needs to start providing answers in a legal court -- not the court of public opinion.
"They’ve been trying to hold off the legal battle so they can wage this PR battle. Well, that has ended today. Now they have no further excuses for failing to file an answer in any of these cases. We want to know what position UH is actually going to take where it matters."
How UH responds to the civil complaints will determine how the cases proceed, Merriman said.
"If they take this seriously, if they move forward and do right by people, it will go faster," Merrimansaid. "If they want to fight it, we’re ready to fight and we’re ready to fight it for a long time."
Despite the delays, Merriman and his firm have issued subpoenas and embarked on fact-finding missions. Merriman has issued subpoenas for information from the manufacturer of the storage tank that failed, in addition to information from Sodexo, a worldwide company contracted by UH to help with management and staffing.
The subpoena for Sodexo requests a litany of different records, including staff rosters, contracts, protocols and communications at UH and the fertility lab. Sodexo is fighting the subpoenas, calling them "fishing expeditions."
UH sent News 5 the following statement in response to the decision to consolidate the cases:
UH will continue to work with the Court and counsel for our patients in moving these cases towards resolution.