It was something that was inevitable once Thomas Eric Duncan was sent home from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital with antibiotics on September 26. There would be legal action against the hospital for its treatment of Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States. Wednesday morning, Duncan's family and its lawyer, Dallas personal injury attorney Les Weisbrod, announced that they have reached a settlement with the hospital.
"We want to raise awareness of the epidemic of preventable medical errors," Weisbrod said.
The care Duncan received upon his return to the hospital after his initial release was excellent, the attorney said, but the initial misdiagnosis likely changed the final outcome of Duncan's treatment.
The settlement established two funds, one for Duncan's family and one for the treatment of Ebola patients in West Africa. Louise Troh, Duncan's fiance, was not included in the settlement, Weisbrod said, because Texas law doesn't allow it. Josephus Weeks, Duncan's nephew, expressed sympathy for Presbyterian and the desire to prevent further errors like the one that may have led to his uncle's death.
"I believe [Presbyterian] is an outstanding facility, but we are human and we make errors," he said. "What I can do is make sure everything that happened making things better for everyone."
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Weisbrod emphasized that he and his clients -- despite previous statements by Weeks -- did not believe that Duncan's release for Presbyterian had anything to do with his race or lack of insurance coverage. It was an error that could have happened to anyone, Weisbrod said. He's represented wealthy, well-insured white patients against Presbyterian, too.
The amount of the settlement is confidential, but Weisbrod said it was as good or better than his clients could have done in court because of Texas' malpractice claim caps. He hopes this case will lead to the changing of those caps, as well as the standard of negligence required in emergency room malpractice cases, he said. Currently, gross negligence, rather than ordinary negligence, must be proved to win an emergency room medical malpractice case.
Presbyterian and the family were expected to meet Wednesday afternoon to hammer out the details of the foundation to support the African patients. It will be administered by Texas Health Resources, Weisbrod said.
What comes after that? The attorney said the family hopes a book or movie is made about their ordeal."