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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Hospital Settles Suit on Ebola ‘Patient Zero’

DALLAS (CN) - The family of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan has settled its claims with the Dallas hospital that botched his initial diagnosis and sent him home with antibiotics.

Attorney Les Weisbrod, with Miller Weisbrod in Dallas, announced details of the settlement at a news conference Wednesday morning with members of Duncan's family.

Hours earlier, his office filed three medical malpractice lawsuits in Dallas County Court on behalf of the Duncans against Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Presbyterian-parent Texas Health Resources, Emergency Medicine Consultants Ltd. and Texas Medicine Resources LLP.

Duncan's diagnosis, and death, set off a month-long public health crisis that included two of his nurses contracting the disease and the monitoring of more than 100 possible contacts.

Judge Carlos Cortez approved the settlements in an afternoon hearing after listening to testimony in support of the agreement from Duncan's sister, May Weruth.

The Presbyterian hospital faced scathing criticism for its misdiagnosis of Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at the hospital after being admitted on his second visit.

Duncan apparently caught the deadly disease while in Liberia days before flying to Dallas. He had helped an ill, pregnant woman to the hospital who was thought to have died due to pregnancy complications.

Civil rights activists and local government officials blasted the hospital, accusing it of turning Duncan away because he was black and lacked insurance .

"We know why what happened at Presbyterian happened. It's historically what has happened in this community," Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said at the time. "If a person who looks like me shows up without any insurance, they don't get the same treatment." Price is African-American.

Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Weisbrod said the settlement was better than what the Duncans could have received in court because of Texas' caps on medical malpractice claims.

Damages for individual defendants are capped at $250,000 and gross negligence must be proven - a higher standard than ordinary negligence.

"The initial treatment in the emergency room, in my opinion, was such that it would meet the standard of gross negligence and that it would have made a difference in the outcome," Weisbrod said. "I believe that the evidence shows that Mr. Duncan should not have been released; he got up to 103 degrees. He had a number of abnormal findings on his blood work and studies."

Weisbrod said the defendants would establish a fund for Duncan's four children and parents, and another fund to help Ebola patients in West Africa.

Louis Troh, Duncan's fiancée, for whom he traveled to Dallas to marry, is not a party to settlement because she is not a member of the family.

Duncan's nephew Josephus Weeks angrily blasted the hospital for its "ignorance, incompetence and indecency" in the days after his uncle's death.

At the press conference, he struck a conciliatory tone in saying, "We all make mistakes."

"I believe this is an outstanding facility, but we are all human and we make errors," Weeks said. "What I can do it make sure everything that happened makes things better for everyone."

Weeks said Presbyterian officials have done an "amazing job" to make things right and that he would have no problem with seeking treatment at Presbyterian.

Weisbrod said the family no longer believes the errors committed had anything to do with Duncan's race or lack of insurance - that it had to do with poor Ebola policies and procedures.

Weisbrod said his clients will not be charged for Duncan's care, under the settlement.

Texas Health spokesman Wendell Watson said that the company is "grateful to reach this point of reconciliation and healing for all involved."

"We know that this has been a terribly sad, difficult and trying time for Mr. Duncan's family and friends, and they will continue to be in the hearts and prayers of the entire Texas Health Presbyterian family," Texas Health said in a statement. "As part of the healing process, we have again extended our sincere apologies to the family and shared our regret that the diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease was not made at the time of Mr. Duncan's initial Emergency Department visit."

Presbyterian said it "greatly appreciates" Weisbrod's acknowledgment that Duncan's inpatient care "was excellent."

Texas Health also noted Texas's "common sense" medical malpractice laws that allow for quick resolution of claims "fairly and equitably."

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