In the year and change since New Jersey's federal district became the epicenter for a swell of litigation over bone and tissue transplants from pilfered cadavers, the cases have grown to more than 500, with no end in sight.
The multidistrict case, In re Human Tissue Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1763, is before U.S. District Judge William Martini. There were five cases when he was assigned the docket in June 2006 and they've been mounting ever since.
The latest infusion came last month, when 60 new suits were filed, 50 of them by Anapol, Schwartz, Weiss, Cohan Feldman & Smalley of Cherry Hill, N.J., one of three lead plaintiffs firms in the litigation.
The plaintiffs, mostly transplant recipients, but including some donors' relatives, contend that the products were not sterile and as a result caused hepatitis, tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis and HIV.
The complaints mostly allege negligence, misrepresentation, breach of warranty, racketeering and violations of New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act and product liability statutes.
The plaintiffs are seeking medical monitoring and many have requested class action certification.
The cases stem from an investigation by the District Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, N.Y., of Biomedical Tissue Service Ltd. of Fort Lee, N.J., which harvests bone and tissue transplants.
The suits allege that, without permission of family members, Biomedical dissected corpses scheduled for cremation. The products were sold to distributors such as Regeneration Technologies Inc. (RTI) of Miami; Medtronic Sofamor Danek Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., and its subsidiary, SpinalGraft Technologies Inc.; Life Cell Corp. of Branchburg, N.J.; the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas; and Tutogen Medical Inc. in Alucha, Fla.
Biomedical and the distributors, all defendants, deny wrongdoing.
Caroline Hartill, RTI's chief scientific officer, stated in court documents that its products cannot transmit disease because they are rigorously sterilized.
Medtronic spokesman Burt Kelly says the plaintiffs must have been infected from another source and that Medtronic only distributed the bones and was not involved in harvesting them.
Plaintiffs' expert Suzanne Parisian, a pathologist and consultant in Phoenix, Ariz., said frozen, freeze-dried or stored bone can transmit disease, that RTI's description of its disinfection method did not include a high-heat process and that Biomedical did not collect bone samples under sterile conditions.
Anthony Vale of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, a lawyer for Medtronic and SpinalGraft, declines to comment; Laura Lewis Owens of Alston & Bird in Atlanta, an attorney for RTI, did not return a call.
Biomedical principal Michael Mastromarino is not represented in the civil matter, says his criminal defense lawyer, Mario Gallucci of Helbrook Nappa & Gallucci in Staten Island, N.Y. Mastromarino has been charged with unlawful dissection, forgery, grand larceny and other offenses.