Fungal Meningitis Victims to Get $100 Million Settlement

Image: Margaret Snopkowski

Margaret Snopkowski, 52, of Fowlerville, MI, receives her once-a-week treatment at St. Joseph Mercy Brighton Health Center, in Brighton, MI, last year. Victims of the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak have reached a $10 million settlement in the case that sickened 751 people and killed 64. Jeffrey Sauger / for NBC News file

Victims of a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated pain shots in 2012 could share in a $100 million legal settlement, lawyers announced Tuesday.

The funds would compensate the 751 victims of the worst such outbreak in U.S. history, including families of 64 people who died. And it extracts payments from the owners of the New England Compounding Center, the firm responsible for sending tainted steroid shots to mostly back pain sufferers in 20 states.

But lawyers for the Seattle law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee, the legal representatives of the victims in court, said it doesn’t come close to compensating those affected for the impact on their lives.

“This is a good recovery given the reality of the bankruptcy, but it isn’t nearly enough to make up for all that the victims and their loved ones have suffered,” said Kristen Johnson, Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. “The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee is committed to maximizing victims’ recovery from the many others that contributed to their injuries and minimizing the costs that reduce the amount of money that actually makes its way into victims’ pockets.”

The settlement involves NECC, NECC's owners, related companies and insurers. It's still pending approval from bankruptcy court, but given timing of the settlement, it's possible that victims could receive payments starting as early as next year.

Individual compensation could vary widely, from claims by families for wrongful deaths to people who suffered infections after exposure, Johnson told NBC News.

The terms include personal contributions of almost $50 million from NECC owners Barry Cadden, Lisa Cadden, Carla Conigliaro and Greg Conigliaro. Ameridose, the insurers for NECC and a related company, Pharmacists Mutual and Maxum, are contributing more than $25 million. And additional contribution of $10 million will be made if and when Ameridose is sold, lawyers said.

The steering committee is still pressing for others they believe are responsible for the outbreak to step up, said Mark Zamora, a member of the group said. That includes UniFirst, the company responsible for controlling contamination and the firms responsible for building the cleanroom and HVAC systems. The committee is also looking to individual doctors and clinics that distributed the pain shots.

But one victim, Dirk Thompson, 58, of Howell, Mich., said he can describe how optimistic he is in two words: "Not very."

NECC filed for bankruptcy in December 2012. The firm shipped vials of the drug methlyprednisolone, which were found to be contaminated with several kinds of mold, which was injected into the spinal columns of patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some patients have recovered, but others remain on powerful antifungal drugs today, doctors told NBC News.

Last year, Margaret Snopkowski, who sought the steroid shots to treat years of back pain, told NBC News that the fungal infection in the fall of 2012 changed everything.

“This has turned my life upside down,” said Snopkowski, 52, of Fowlerville, Mich. “This illness and what has happened to me has robbed me of everything that makes me happy. Gardening, cooking, I like to clean my own house. I don’t do any of that now.”

No criminal charges have been lodged in the case. The company's owners have denied wrongdoing or liability.