Ebola victim’s family, hospital reach settlement

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

DALLAS (AP) – The hospital that treated the only Ebola patient to die in the United States will pay his relatives an undisclosed sum and create a charitable foundation in his name, the family’s attorney said Wednesday.

The agreement heads off a lawsuit from relatives of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Duncan, who arrived in North Texas from Liberia on Sept. 20, was initially sent away from the hospital’s emergency room with antibiotics, something Presbyterian administrators have acknowledged was a mistake. He returned to the hospital in an ambulance two days after his release and was quickly diagnosed with possible signs of Ebola, which has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa.

Attorney Les Weisbrod declined to say how much the settlement was worth, but said it was a “very good deal” that would provide for Duncan’s parents and his four children. Weisbrod also said Presbyterian hospital was not charging Duncan’s family for his medical treatment. The foundation will assist efforts to fight Ebola in Africa, he said.

Presbyterian Hospital said in a statement that it was “grateful to reach this point of reconciliation and healing for all involved.”

The hospital has apologized for releasing Duncan the first time, and after initially denying he had told them he was from West Africa, they acknowledged key caregivers missed his travel history in their record system.

Weisbrod and Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, both credited Presbyterian’s officials for moving quickly to settle the case and for acknowledging the hospital’s mistakes.

“I believe this facility is an outstanding facility,” Weeks said. “It’s how you recover from an error that makes you who you are.”

Duncan’s family would have faced a very high bar had they filed a lawsuit against Presbyterian hospital. Texas medical malpractice law places a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages related to pain and suffering in almost all cases.

It also gives extra protection to emergency room doctors and nurses. Instead of just proving that Duncan’s doctors were negligent in his care, Duncan’s family would have to prove that any negligence was “willful and wanton” – essentially, that doctors knew they were causing harm when they treated Duncan.

“The standard of proof is gross negligence, which I believe we could have met in this case, but it’s an onerous standard,” Weisbrod said. He added that he believes the settlement is “as good or better” than the results of a lawsuit would have been.

Louise Troh, Duncan’s fiancee, will not receive anything in the settlement, Weisbrod said.

A quick resolution to Duncan’s case also benefits parent company Texas Health Resources, which faced weeks of negative publicity over its handling of the case and saw patient visits plummet immediately afterward.

Visits to Presbyterian’s emergency room fell more than 50 percent during the first 20 days of October, and the hospital’s overall patient census fell 21 percent.

Fears that Duncan’s case would spark a widespread outbreak did not come to pass. Two Presbyterian nurses were infected during Duncan’s care. Both were taken to different hospitals and have recovered from the virus. More than 100 people who had contact with Duncan and the two nurses have been cleared after 21 days of monitoring for Ebola symptoms.

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