The deadly Ebola virus has made its way to America, and Thomas Eric Duncan has become its first victim. There are a number of news outlets reporting on the death, and CNN has even compiled a list of seven reasons why his case differs from other Ebola cases – and most of those reasons hint at negligence by medical staff and personnel as the root cause.
Had Duncan passed away in a different state, his family may have a medical malpractice claim. But he passed away in Texas, one of the most difficult states in the country when it comes to malpractice lawsuits. According to an NBC News report, a “person administering emergency care in good faith ‘is not liable in civil damages for an act performed during the emergency unless the act is willfully or wantonly negligent.’”
Why this is a medical malpractice case
The emergency care doctrine is most often applied to on-the-spot treatments: say, administering the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man in a restaurant without fear of being sued if you break the man’s rib by accident. Texas essentially applies this rule to its emergency room personnel as well, making it almost impossible to successfully sue an ER doctor or nurse.
Duncan’s family and loved ones say that he was treated differently than other Ebola cases. He was not given the right diagnosis at first, and he was given different drugs. In Duncan’s case, however, the experimental drugs that had been successful on other infected victims were not available, and the serum infusion was impossible because his blood type did not match up with the donors.
Duncan had just come to America from Liberia, where the virus is rampant. He gave this information to the hospital officials. Thus, he should have been quarantined immediately – not sent home for three days with antibiotics. Even if Duncan had not been exhibiting the early sign of Ebola, he should have been isolated immediately.
This is not about “administering care in good faith:” it could be negligence and disregard for the safety of the patient and anyone else who may have been exposed to the virus because of him. So far, “none of the 48 people who definitely or potentially had contact with the now-deceased patient have developed any definite symptoms.” Let us hope that all 48 people exposed by the hospital’s failure to take action are safe.
To learn more about missed diagnoses, the emergency care doctrine or medical malpractice, please visit Plaxen & Adler, P.A.