Texas Hospital Settles With Thomas Duncan’s Family

After Thomas Eric Duncan — the first man in the United States to have been diagnosed with the Ebola virus — died last month, there was a general expectation that the family would pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Texas hospital where he was treated.

According to USA Today, a medical malpractice lawsuit was not filed, but Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas has settled with Duncan’s family and will pay his medical bills, as well as provide a sum of money that will support his four children.

The hospital seems to have made multiple mistakes when it came to Duncan’s care — and the way they handled releasing information about it after the fact. First, the hospital released Duncan after his first emergency room visit and sent him home with antibiotics and painkillers.

A miscommunication in the hospital also meant that the physician caring for Duncan was never notified that his patient had just visited Liberia — crucial information for Duncan’s care and for the health and safety of the medical personnel who can into contact with him. Two nurses who treated Duncan were infected with Ebola but have since recovered.

About 95% to 96% of personal injury cases are settled before they get to trial, but in the cases that do, only half of plaintiffs win — and Duncan’s family probably wouldn’t have been one of them. What would have complicated a medical malpractice suit between the family and the hospital is that tort reform law specifies in these types of cases that negligence must be “willful and wanton,” according to theTexas Observer, rather than just an oversight or even a series of oversights.

In cases of medical malpractice, the injured party typically has to prove that there was negligence on the part of a medical professional; however, tort reform law in Texas dictates that the negligence must be purposeful and deliberate — neither of which seem to apply in Duncan’s case.

At $600,000, medical malpractice has the highest median damages awards of all personal injury cases, but the amount the hospital paid to the family has not been disclosed.

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