Representatives of the blood-products industry are working hard at the state Capitol to crush a bill designed to give people who contracted HIV/AIDS from hemophilia medications more time to sue. Sponsor Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), calls the fight "a major war," while critics consider his legislation an arbitrary favor to a special interest.
While the current skirmish may be new to Minnesota lawmakers, attempts at retribution for infected hemophiliacs have led to protracted struggles throughout the country. Recently, a federal appellate judge upheld a decision barring hundreds of HIV-infected hemophiliacs from filing a class-action suit against companies accused of marketing tainted blood products. (For The Record, 2/21/96.) Limmer's bill would allow plaintiffs until June 1997 to file suit against what he calls "the people with allegedly the most culpability": blood product manufacturers and the National Hemophilia Foundation. The current Minnesota statute of limitations is six years, a period that has passed for some potential plaintiffs.
A self-described "pro-business conservative," Limmer seems an unlikely sponsor of a bill that flies squarely against Republican tort-reform efforts. But a personal plea from a boyhood chum who contracted HIV from Factor VII, an anti-coagulant, caused him to change his stance. Many of his fellow Republicans have yet to experience the same shift in consciousness, a fact Limmer blames on heavy-handed lobbying tactics rather than partisan beliefs. High-profile local representatives for blood-product manufacturing concerns include attorney Win Borden, as well as Rich Forschler and Linda Svitak of Faegre & Benson. (None had returned City Pages' calls as of presstime.) Critics argue that legislators should not fiddle with the statute of limitations, but Limmer cites extraordinary circumstances. "It is a chapter in American public health that is a total disaster. Tens of thousands of people are dead or dying because corporations did not assume responsibility," he says.
Ironically, the amount of energy invested to prevent the bill's passage is hardly proportional to the number of individuals it would affect. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are between 400 and 900 hemophiliacs in the state who use or have used blood clotting products. Of these, 101 patients have contracted HIV from the medication; 71 of those have AIDS. An additional nine spouses have contracted HIV/AIDS through secondary transmission.
No floor votes have been scheduled on Limmer's bill or its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Pugh (DFL-South St. Paul), but a Senate vote could arrive as early as this week.
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