- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - More legal maneuvering in a lawsuit stemming from the largest hepatitis C outbreak in recent U.S. history indicates an attempt to mediate an out-of-court resolution this week has failed.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs on Thursday asked a judge to dismiss the federal suit so it can be moved to state court. That will enable them to sue not only the nursing home in Minot where most of the victims contracted hepatitis C, but also the health system that operates the city’s lone hospital that provided lab services to the home. The judge didn’t immediately rule.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage and death. Fifty-two cases have been linked to the outbreak in Minot since August 2013, and 48 of them are residents or former residents of the ManorCare nursing home. It’s the largest such outbreak in the nation in 13 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Fenner and Lilas Guttormson sued Florida-based ManorCare in federal court in April 2014. ManorCare has since blamed Trinity Health for the outbreak - an accusation Trinity rejects. Eighteen lawsuits have been filed in state court against both companies.

Trinity, headquartered in North Dakota, can be sued only in state court, according to J. Gordon Rudd, an attorney representing nearly two dozen Minot hepatitis victims.

Attorney for the plaintiffs, David Barari, said in court documents filed Thursday that it makes sense to sue ManorCare and Trinity together “in order to obtain complete relief.”

The motion to dismiss the Fenner/Guttormson lawsuit in federal court so it can be linked with one of the state court lawsuits came two days after a scheduled mediation session that Rudd had said would be an “attempt to resolve the entire case.”

Rudd declined comment on the outcome of the mediation, as did officials with ManorCare and Trinity.

ManorCare requested last month that it be allowed to seek compensatory and punitive damages from Trinity as part of the federal lawsuit. Trinity attorneys filed court documents on Tuesday asking a judge for a one-month extension of a Nov. 16 deadline to respond to that request.

Trinity attorneys also asked the court to reject a request by ManorCare to compel Trinity to release evidence of drug diversion - instances in which people steal patients’ prescription medicine for their own use. Drug diversion by health care providers can contribute to infection outbreaks, according to the CDC.

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