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MINOT, N.D. (AP) — A trial has been set in the defamation case brought by a Minot hospital against a communications firm over one of the largest hepatitis C outbreaks in recent U.S. history.

Trinity Health is suing Arkansas-based Markham Group, alleging it published false statements online to lead the public to believe that Trinity caused the Minot outbreak between 2011 and 2013. Other defendants named in the suit include Markham Group employee Bruce Sinclair, contract employee Christopher Todd Coon and an unknown individual whom Trinity believes to be responsible for hiring Markham Group.

The jury trial is scheduled for February 2020, the Minot Daily News reported .

Local advocacy group Minot Action Network launched a public campaign in 2016 pressuring public officials and Trinity Health to conduct widespread hepatitis C testing. Trinity Health alleges the group’s public messaging was in concert with the Markham Group, Sinclair and Coon.

The defendants deny the allegations. They also say the U.S. District Court in North Dakota, where the suit was filed in November, lacks jurisdiction because they aren’t residents of that state.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage or death. At least 52 people were sickened in the Minot outbreak, making it the nation’s largest outbreak in 13 years.

Many of those infected were nursing home residents at ManorCare of Minot. Trinity Health had been providing certain medical services to ManorCare residents at the time.

The North Dakota Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded an investigation in 2013 that determined there was no clear cause of the outbreak.

Nearly two dozen victims and relatives settled claims against Trinity Health out of court in 2016.


Information from: Minot Daily News,