CHARLESTON – Records show the state of West Virginia is prepared to pay $500,000 to nearly a dozen people who allege they contracted tuberculosis while either visiting or working at a state-run hospital in Beckley.
Prior to Thanksgiving, reports surfaced of a tentative settlement being reached in personal injury suits filed against Pinecrest Hospital. Samuel Plumley, Jerome Walker, Amy Helton, Kyle King, Cheryl Farley, Ronald Davis, Sandy Gregory, Jerry Helton, Danny Stuphin and Cynthia Hairston filed separate lawsuits last year in Kanawha Circuit Court alleging they contracted tuberculosis at Pinecrest.
Though now used as a long-term care facility for the elderly, Pinecrest was created by the state Legislature in 1927 for the express purpose of serving as a tuberculosis sanitarium.
Today, the 199-bed facility still houses a ward for tuberculosis patients though the lawsuits allege it has been closed.
All the lawsuits allege the respective plaintiffs, who were either visitors or employees of Pinecrest, contracted tuberculosis sometime between August 2001 and September 2004.
As a result of Pinecrest installing a through-the-wall air conditioning system in the TB ward in 2001, the negative air pressure units designed to prevent contaminated air from infiltrating other areas of the hospital was effectively compromised.
Despite remedying the problem in September 2004, all the suits allege "Pinecrest intentionally and recklessly exposed Plaintiff[s] to tuberculosis and failed to inform [them] of [their] possible exposure." Each suit contained a two-count complaint of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Associated Press reported that both Charles Jones, executive director of the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and Barry Bruce, attorney for all the plaintiffs, confirmed a tentative settlement had been reached. The settlement, Bruce said, was confidential, and declined to say how much each plaintiff would receive.
However, according to court records, the parties agreed to conduct mediation in Fayetteville at the law office of Graydon C. Ooten Jr. on Nov. 19. The mediation concluded with Pinecrest agreeing to pay all the plaintiffs "the total amount of $500,000 for full releases" as well as the cost of mediation.
Along with the 10 who already filed a suit, the agreement stipulated that an additional person, Diane Treadway, be paid. In exchange for her inclusion in the settlement, Treadway was to sign a covenant not to sue Pinecrest.
The mediation agreement contained the signatures of both Bruce and Pinecrest's attorney Edgar Allen Poe Jr. with the Charleston law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe. Neither Bruce nor Poe returned phone calls seeking comment.
Also, Jones said until a formal settlement is reached he could not comment on the $500,000 offer. However, he did say he was hopeful the agreement could be finalized by the middle of December.
Finally, when contacted, Melvin Smith, spokesman for Gov. Joe Manchin deferred comment to John Law, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for Pinecest. Because Laws was unavailable, calls were referred to his assistant Marsha Dadisman. Dadisman was not immediately available for comment.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 07-C-1880 to 07-C-1889