Can the TB Patient Be Sued?

airplane3b.jpgI’ve been pondering whether the TB patient with the rare hard-to-treat form of the disease who flew on so many flights can be sued by those other passengers whom he may have exposed to the illness. From the New York Times:

The man with a dangerous and hard-to-treat form of tuberculosis, who potentially exposed several hundred airline passengers to the disease, was moved early today from a hospital in Atlanta to one in Denver that specializes in treating respiratory illnesses.

The man, described as a 31-year-old lawyer in Atlanta, was escorted by federal marshals as he walked under his own power from an ambulance to National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. . . .

The man was the first to be placed in forced isolation in over 40 years by federal public health authorities after he traveled to Europe for a wedding and honeymoon after being advised that he had the disease. Health authorities said he posed a risk to airplane passengers, particularly on long, trans-Atlantic flights.

The man isn’t being charged with any crime, since there was no official order for him not to fly. However, he was strongly advised not to fly, but chose to fly to Europe to get married. He then flew on several flights around Europe. And finally, after being informed by the CDC that his TB was even more dangerous than he had thought, he flew back to the US so he could get better treatment:

The man, whose name has not been disclosed, has said he was advised not to travel, but not specifically forbidden. The wedding and honeymoon had apparently been planned for a long time. . . .

Meanwhile public health officials were trying to locate the passengers that sat closest to the man on the trans-Atlantic flights, who are said to be at the most risk for infection. They will be asked to undergo testing for presence of the disease. . . .

Officials of the federal Centers for Disease Control said they contacted the man while he was on vacation in Italy after they learned that he carried the dangerous strain of the disease and advised him to turn himself into Italian health authorities.

Instead, he made his way to Prague and flew from there to Montreal to avoid a United States no-fly list. He drove from there into this country until persuaded to go to a hospital in New York City.

I would think that the people who were near him on those flights would have a decent cause of action against him. If they test positive for the form of TB the man has, I assume he could be sued for negligently spreading a contagious disease. But I wonder how far such a theory might go. Could a person be sued for going to work with the flu and spreading it to others? And even if the passengers don’t test positive, the man’s actions have caused the passengers to suffer considerable fear and anxiety, as well as the time and expense of getting tested. I wonder whether this could give rise to a cause of action as well. Any tort law experts care to opine?

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12 Responses

  1. Nancy says:

    I think this man needs to be put in jail for totaling ignoring the direct order for him to return. He snuck back into the US which shows he knew what he was doing was not only illegal but reprehensiable.

    He’s a lawyer, he should be disbarred and if anyone gets this diease and has to have medical treatment, dies or suffers from him completety selfish, self serving actions they should sue him for everything he has.

    What a jerk.

  2. Betty Franco says:

    I think this guy as intelligent as he may be, he disrigarded the safety of other and himself he should be charge with a crime because knowingly he went to this trips and having been involved with someone whos father is in the medical field I am sure has heard that TB is a contagious disesae, maybe not a felony but a misdemeanor yes.

  3. Betty Franco says:

    I think this guy as intelligent as he may be, he disrigarded the safety of other and himself he should be charge with a crime because knowingly he went to this trips and having been involved with someone whos father is in the medical field I am sure has heard that TB is a contagious disesae, maybe not a felony but a misdemeanor yes.

  4. Betty Franco says:

    I think this guy as intelligent as he may be, he disrigarded the safety of other and himself he should be charge with a crime because knowingly he went to this trips and having been involved with someone whos father is in the medical field I am sure has heard that TB is a contagious disesae, maybe not a felony but a misdemeanor yes.

  5. Cindy says:

    I agree he should be jailed/sued/disbarred.

    What an arrogant self centered jerk.

  6. ATB says:

    I would say that this person’s flagrant disregard for others is merely symptomatic of the selfish, narcissistic society we live in today. Who cares that other people may suffer and die?! He would have had to postpone his “long-planned wedding,” which probably cost $100,000+. I’m so sick of having to live among jerks like this, who only care about themselves. I don’t understand why his wife even went along with this. I would be disgusted and humiliated by the clearly unfeeling behavior of this person-enough to disassociate myself from him. And I especially LOVE his quote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he calls himself “a well-educated, intelligent person.” Clearly, that’s the way he views himself- as above the law- or else why would behaved this way? I dearly hope he gets sued and that the ABA looks into his actions. Andrew Speaker is an unethical twit who deserves to sit in isolation and think about how he has jeopardized the health of so many others.

  7. MBW says:

    First of all, here’s proof that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get into law school. No one has mentioned yet just how stupid his wife is to subject herself to all of this as well-it’s really not any different than having unprotected sex with someone that has AIDS. If she were smart, she’d be filing for anullment right now since clearly the moron she married could care less about her, or anyone else. They should be treated no different than someone out driving intoxicated-no, worse-when you’re intoxicated at least you have an excuse for being impaired! What do you do with someone so stupid and reckless that is such a narcissist? What part of “drug resistant” did he not understand???????

  8. Armand says:

    Execute the moron. Then execute the agent who disregarded the flags. If not, then just fine him for 50% of any money he will earn for the rest of his life, and the same for the moron crossing agent.

  9. Bruce Boyden says:

    Um, OK, execution seems a bit over the top. And people generally seem to be letting their emotions run away with this one, before we have many facts. It’s cable news button-pushing, only even the Times is doing it.

    One thing I’m curious to know about is the legal authority of the Border Police (or whatever they’re now called) to take a U.S. citizen into custody for health reasons. Incidentally, this guy crossed back into the U.S. at or near my home town. Who knows, he may have even stopped at the McDonald’s where I worked one summer. Yikes!

  10. Sara Patterson says:

    This TB patient should be classified as a bio terrorist in my opinion and this should be a homeland security issue as well.

    I am sick to death of any brown skinned person being subjected to closer scrutiny for no good reason other than “looking” like a middle eastern person but when a flashing warning on the border custom agent’s computer warns that the TB patient must be stopped, he is allowed to enter the US because he “looks” healthy???

    This TB patient is incredibly selfish and paints himself into a corner by claiming that he was not forbidden to fly, just advised not to. Well if he thought he wasn’t doing anything wrong, then why try to sneak back into the US via Canada? This man should have to pay for every single TB test that anyone who has come into contact with him has to have done now and again in 3 months time.

    As far as I’m concerned, this is no longer a regular constitutional issue but a homeland security issue and he should be thrown into Guantanamo Bay since there are plenty of people in there for doing far less…

  11. Catherine says:

    I am an attorney and I agree that he should be jailed and disbarred. If there is not a criminal law that allows for jail, one needs to be written. If he cannot be jailed, he should still be disbarred and pay damages to everyone he exposed to TB. He knowingly exposed many people to an often fatal, highly contagious disease. I believe the CDC told him not to fly — that is why his father tape recorded the conversation. And his uncooperative response to their request not to fly is why the CDC went back over there the same day to hand deliver a letter to him.

  12. KipEsquire says:

    Why are people pretending these questions are somehow unchartered territory?

    1. Duty, breach, causuation, injury, damages.

    2a. Reasonable person standard.

    2b. Statutory duty.

    These may be difficult questions to answer (I think not), but they are certainly not difficult questions to ask.