Last December, Corey Dubin, a hemophiliac infected with the virus that causes AIDS, met for lunch at a Carrow’s restaurant in Camarillo, Calif., with John Bacich, the president of a Baxter International Inc. unit that makes blood-clotting products. Mr. Dubin, like an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 hemophiliacs nationwide, became infected with H.I.V. after receiving a tainted clotting substance made by Baxter and three other companies in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Hundreds of victims had sued. But statutes of limitations prevented thousands more from bringing claims. Mr. Dubin however had not come to lunch to pick a fight. Rather, dissatisfied with the way key plaintiffs’ lawyers were handling the litigation, he was on a stealth mission to negotiate, for all those infected, a settlement with the four companies without the knowledge of key plaintiffs’ lawyers.
But some like Mr. Baldwin contend that the activists may have scuttled earlier deals that could have gotten money quickly to those who desperately needed it. “I’ve had mothers calling me saying that they’d be happy to get $30,000 for their son so they can buy him a new car before he dies,” said Mr. Baldwin, whose brother, also a hemophiliac, died three years ago of AIDS. It is estimated that more than 2,000 H.I.V.- infected hemophiliacs have died.
A San Francisco attorney filed a class-action lawsuit Monday on behalf of thousands of hemophiliacs who claim that Bayer Corp. and several other companies knowingly sold blood products contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleges that the companies conspired to sell blood-clotting products that were manufactured using blood from sick, high-risk donors. The suit also alleges that companies stopped selling the products in the United States because of the known risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission but continued distributing the infected products in Latin America, Asia and Europe in 1984 and 1985.
“Tens of thousands of hemophiliacs globally were infected with HIV or (hepatitis C) after receiving blood products from blood plasma that was originally manufactured in the United States,” said San Francisco attorney Robert J. Nelson. “This is a worldwide tragedy. Thousands of hemophiliacs have unnecessarily died from AIDS and many thousands more are infected with HIV or hepatitis C.” The companies named in the suit include Berkeley-based Cutter Biological, which is a division of Bayer; Baxter Healthcare Corp.’s Hyland Pharmaceutical division; Armour Pharmaceutical Co. and Alpha Therapeutic Corp.
Under the bill signed by Mr. Pataki, people infected by blood products, or their survivors, will have two years to bring product liability suits against the manufacturers. ”I just looked at my son’s beautiful picture on the wall and said, ‘Yes, C. J., you’ll have your day in court,’ ” said Regina Boccard, 44, of Huntington, N.Y., whose 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Charles John, died of AIDS in 1994. The signing comes after the settlement of a class-action suit brought by hemophiliacs nationwide against the manufacturers of blood products. Under that $620 million settlement, the companies agreed to pay $100,000 to each infected hemophiliac.
Those people would then be barred from filing suits against the companies. More than 5,000 people have accepted the settlement. About 75 of the 600 who rejected it live in New York, and most are expected to file suits. Since the bill passed the Legislature in August, both sides have vigorously lobbied to sway Mr. Pataki. Lobbyists for the blood products industry, which includes Bayer A.G. and Baxter International Inc., asserted that the bill could lead to catastrophic financial losses for the manufacturers.
China is the latest country to admit that Aids is cutting a swathe through its population, but Aids-related scandals have dogged many other countries since the 1980s and 1990s. One of the most high-profile cases was that of France’s tainted blood scandal, which saw a former health minister convicted for failing adequately to screen blood which led to the deaths from Aids of five people, and the contamination of two others during a key period in 1985. In April of this year, Canada’s Supreme Court found the Canadian Red Cross guilty of negligence for failing to screen blood donors effectively for HIV infection. Three suits were brought against the Red Cross by people who received tainted blood. Two of them subsequently died of Aids and the third is HIV positive. About 2,000 people were infected with HIV and up to 60,000 with Hepatitis C before blood tests began in late 1985.
In Italy, a Rome court ordered the Health Ministry in June of this year to pay damages to 351 people who contracted the HIV virus and hepatitis through blood transfusions. The court said the ministry was too slow to introduce measures to prevent the virus being spread by donated blood, and did not establish proper checks on plasma. About 100 of the victims – all haemophiliacs – have already died, but the court ruled that their families were entitled to the compensation. In March this year, a court in Tokyo cleared a former top Aids expert of professional negligence over a scandal that exposed thousands to the HIV virus through tainted blood products. The high-profile scandal, which grabbed headlines in the mid-1990s, shocked Japan with allegations of a government cover-up and unethical links between big business and bureaucrats. Japan’s Health Ministry did not ban unheated blood products until December 1985, despite knowing they risked being tainted with HIV.
In Iran in the late 1990s, the former head of Iran’s blood transfusion centre also went on trial over allegations that patients contracted the HIV virus after receiving contaminated blood. Dr Farhadi and two other doctors faced several charges including negligence in importing HIV-tainted supplies from France. And in Portugal, a court indicted a former health minister over an Aids scandal dating back to her time in office during the 1980s. The court said the minister, Leonor Beleza, should be tried for propagating a contagious disease. The decision refers back to a case in which more than 100 Portuguese haemophiliacs were infected with the Aids virus after receiving transfusions of contaminated plasma that had been imported and distributed by the public health service.