Meanwhile, the families lawsuits against Multidata and MDS have been dismissed in both countries for lack of jurisdiction in Panama and for "forum non-conveniens" in the U.S.. On Jan. 15, 2004, St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Emmett M. OBrien told the families to re-file their suit in Panama, where the overdoses occurred.
Yet Judge Zoila Rosa Esquivel of the First Court of Justice of the Civil Circuit in Panama had dismissed the suit on April 30, 2003, saying that the case could not be pursued in two countries at the same time. In effect, by taking the companies to court in St. Louis County first, the families forfeited the right to take them to court in Panama, according to Esquivels ruling.
Now the families are trying again in Panama. Judge OBrien said the companies need to be given the chance to respond to the charges in Panamanian court, before the case can be reconsidered in the U.S.
Judge OBriens decision is a victory for Multidata and MDS, which fought to get the suit tried in Panama. Judgements awarded in Panama tend to be low, compensating victims just for actual damages, notes Edgardo Molino-Mola, a former Panama Supreme Court Justice. And since Panamanian judges permit both sides to engage in delaying tactics, such as filing motions with no substance, cases may not be resolved for 10 or 15 years.
Regardless of how the court cases end up, some good has come out of the tragedy. The Government of Taiwan donated two new linear accelerators to the National Cancer Institute, to replace its single, aging Cobalt-60 machine, and the Ministry of Health purchased a third linear accelerator that is expected to be installed soon. Training of hospital staff is greatly improved. A foundation led by a prominent Panamanian cancer survivor, Marta Estela C. de Vallarino, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that have helped the hospital buy new mammography and endoscopy machines.
Then there is the restorative power of family. Garcia survived because, after six treatments at the National Cancer Institute, he was so sick that his six children chipped in the $1,500 it cost to finish his treatments at a private hospital.
At that hospital he was treated by, among others, Saldaña, who moonlights there on a second shift.