Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ebola Medical Malpractice Sparks Potential Lawsuit


Thomas Eric Duncan was the first patient in the United States to be diagnosed with Ebola. He was born in Liberia and lived there for most of his life, where a large portion of his family still resides. It wasn’t until September 19th that he made the surprising decision to move to the United States to pursue a better life. No one, however, expected it to end so soon after his departure.

In Liberia, Duncan worked for an offspring company of FedEx known as Safeway Cargo. He personally transported the general manager of the company, Henry Brunson, who explains that Duncan unexpectedly quit his job without reason. It was later discovered that—after a phone call with his sister (who lives in the U.S.)—he obtained a visa and planned to arrive at Dallas, Texas on September 20th, 2014 to meet his now 19-year-old son and Louise Troh, his fiancée, who fled Liberia with their son 16 years ago to escape the African civil war.

The Initial Contraction

On September 15th, 2014, Thomas Eric Duncan—better known as Eric—was in Monrovia, Liberia where he used to reside. He rented living space from the Williams family and shared the home with them. It was shocking for the family when chaos suddenly ensued; the pregnant Nathaline Williams began experiencing unbearable pain and needed immediate medical attention. With the disease spreading rapidly in Liberia, emergency transportation and even hospital beds were scarcely available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The troubling family was experiencing incredible difficulty in receiving fetching an ambulance, so Eric took it upon himself to step up and secure a taxi ride for the group. They traveled very closely in the back of the taxi; it was never discovered exactly how much physical contact Eric had with Nathaline that day, but the family was faced with a tragedy when Nathaline later died from Ebola.

How Did He Not Know?

4 days later, when boarding his connecting flight from Brussels, Belgium to Dallas at the Monrovia airport, Eric—as were all other passengers—was asked to fill out a health examination questionnaire. Because Nathaline was many months into her pregnancy, Eric had admitted that he assumed she was having a painful miscarriage.  Assuming he truly believed Nathaline had a miscarriage, and combined with the fact that he was showing no symptoms; Eric answered “no” when asked if he has had any contact with the Ebola virus in the past 21 days.

It was only when he began showing symptoms on September 24th, 2014 that he decided to take any medical action. He went to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital emergency room the next night seeking an answer and treatment. The medical physicians at the hospital—whose guards were likely lowered with little given thought to the Ebola virus—sent Eric home with antibiotics and scheduled instructions.

The daughter of his newly reunited fiancée, Youngor Jallah, insisted that Eric go back to the hospital. Three days after his initial hospital visit, Youngor took it upon herself to call 911 and have Eric taken in. She stated that his blood pressure was “frighteningly low, and his temperature measured close to 103.” Also, according to her brief examination, “his eyes had turned red”, he was vomiting, and “he had been to the bathroom seven times during the night.”

The Spread; the Surprise; and the News

After an astounding 3 hours stay in the waiting room, nurses finally gave medical attention to Eric. They were reportedly wearing partial hazmat suits and were therefore more susceptible to the contraction of Ebola. It’s clear to see how unprepared the U.S. was for Ebola; although it the virus was running rampant in Liberia and many other Africa countries, a direct threat to the United States was never expected.

The only reason even partial hazmat suits were worn was because Youngor had warned medical professionals about Eric’s history in Liberia and expressed that genuine care and safety should be practiced.  Eric went from critical to stable, stable to questionable, questionable to critical again, and then sadly lost the battle with Ebola on October 8th, 2014.

Just 2 days after Eric’s death, a 26-year-old nurse by the name of Nina Pham who aided in the treatment of Eric (Duncan) reported to have a fever. The next day, on October 11th, 2014, she was confirmed to have contracted Ebola and became the first person to contract the virus in the United States. News of this contraction spread like wildfire on mainstream media news and quickly made Ebola a hot topic for conversation.

Amber Vinson—another nurse who treated Eric—had plans to travel on October 13th, 2014 via Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland back to Dallas; there were132 other passengers on that flight. Vinson made an incredibly wise choice and made a phone call to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to report a temperature of 99.5 degrees. She was concerned for the safety of the other passengers and wanted to clarify that it would be okay to fly.

A health official at the CDC gave her the green light and Vinson boarded the flight. With so many people on board that flight, it took everyone involved by surprise when the next day, Amber Vinson was reporting a high fever. According to Wikipedia, Vinson was isolated within 90 minutes of reporting the fever and was tested positive for the virus the next day.

With 2 nurses having contracted the virus from Eric, viewers of mainstream media news couldn’t help but panic. Not everyone was sure on exactly how big of a problem the virus was becoming. In the news, the overwhelming stories and scare tactics employed led citizens to believe it was a lot worse than it actually was.

Legal Action

30-year-old Briana Aguirre was the nurse that treated Nina Pham at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Based on the so-far seemingly predictable pattern, you’d imagine that Aguirre also contracted Ebola, but she did not. She made a bold move and decided to take time off of work to seek help from a lawyer. She met Robert W. Kelley of the Kelley/Uustal firm in Fort Lauderdale and explained the unsafe practices and protection the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was supplying their staff.

They were soon interviewed together by an interested Matt Lauer from the “Today Show” on NBC who asked questions about the hazmat suits and other precautions these nurses take to remain healthy. Aguirre explained that there was a “3-inch gap below the chin” and it could pose a threat if contaminated fluid got into the nose or mouth. Kelley’s firm strongly focuses on medical malpractice suits, and with Aguirre being a whistleblower, she needed a firm who could strongly defend her case.

Aguirre doesn’t necessarily plan to take any direct legal action against the hospital, she just wants to learn her rights and protect her health and best interests. Aguirre told Lauer that she greatly enjoys working for the hospital, but “threw a fit” when she witnessed how poorly trained and prepared staff were for Ebola. Aguirre’s main goal is to let United States citizens know that hospitals need to change for the better; they need an upgrade and she urges everyone to step up and fight for safer, more prepared, and more advanced health care. She explained that “This is one of the biggest facilities in this city. Yet, doctors were walking from room to room and potentially cross-contamination.” 

Will Aguirre’s battle for safer health care cost her job at the hospital she loved? Will she land herself in court for disorderly conduct? Will she be forced to pursue the hospital and charge them with medical malpractice? With her lawyer Kelley by her side, she plans to speak her mind freely and with protection. Only time can tell if she can make a difference. For more articles on legal rights, stories, and more, visit www.dolmanlaw.com.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33756
727-451-6900

Contact us with our
Online Form 

Practice Area: 
Medical Malpractice