Trinity defamation lawsuit ongoing

A jury trial is scheduled for February 2020 in a defamation lawsuit brought by Trinity against a communications firm in connection with a Hepatitis C outbreak in Minot.

Trinity sued the Markham Group, its employee Bruce Sinclair , its contract employee Christopher Todd Coon and Doe No. 1 last November in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit alleges the defendants published false statements on the internet to harm the medical center’s reputation and to lead the public to believe that Trinity caused a Hepatitis C outbreak between 2011 and 2013 in Minot.

Markham Group is an Arkansas company. Trinity is suing Doe No. 1 as a unknown individual whom it believes is responsible for hiring the Markham Group.

In mid-2016, a group called Minot Action Network began a public campaign to pressure public officials and Trinity to conduct widespread Hepatitis C testing. Trinity says the group’s public messaging was in concert with Markham, Sinclair and Coon.

The defendants deny making false statements. They deny any damage occurred but argue if damages exist, they are the result of the conduct of Trinity or its employees.

“Any statements made by defendants concerning plaintiffs are covered by a privilege protecting persons assembling and speaking out on issues of public importance. Defendants’ statements, if any are shown to have been made, constitute fair comment and criticism on matters of public concern,” they stated in court documents.

They also argue the North Dakota branch of the U.S. district court lacks jurisdiction because they are not state residents. They seek dismissal of the lawsuit.

The Hepatitis C outbreak infected 52 people, many of them residents at ManorCare of Minot. At the time of the outbreak, Trinity provided certain medical services to ManorCare residents. In December 2013, the North Dakota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded an investigation that identified no clear cause of the outbreak.

In early 2014, several individuals affected by the outbreak sued ManorCare, which brought a claim against Trinity. In 2016, the majority of the plaintiffs dismissed their claims against ManorCare and reached a settlement with Trinity, leaving one individual plaintiff and ManorCare’s claims against Trinity in state court. The case is set for trial to begin Oct. 1.

ManorCare is alleging a Trinity phlebotomist re-used needles when drawing blood and/or the outbreak was caused by persons engaged in drug diversion at Trinity.