Ebola Outbreak: Nurses, Duncan's Family Likely Face Uphill Legal Battle

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The pair of nurses who contracted Ebola at a Dallas hospital — and the family of the Liberian man who died there last week — would face a high bar if they decide to take legal action, according to leading local attorneys and experts.

Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, the two caregivers who have tested positive for the deadly virus, likely wouldn't be able to sue the hospital for damages if they're covered by workers' compensation, according to attorney Robert Hilliard. Hilliard, who is based in Corpus Christi, Texas, said workers' compensation is typical for hospital employees, limiting them to time-loss pay and health benefits. Their families or estates may have a stronger case, Hilliard said, if the illness were fatal. A spokeswoman for the hospital did not immediately return phone calls placed by NBC News.

The family of Thomas Eric Duncan would also have a difficult time winning justice in a liability suit against the hospital where he was treated and died. Texas has an incredibly restrictive tort reform law, enacted in 2003, requiring plaintiffs suing emergency room physicians to prove "willful and wanton negligence" by the doctors — a very high bar, according to Charla Aldous, a leading Dallas trial lawyer. She said her law office was "looking into the issues involved" in potential legal action against the hospital.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has come under fire for the ways it allegedly treated Duncan and in the staff's preparedness to cope with an Ebola case. A union that says it represents nurses in every state has said that "there was no protocol, there was no system" at the hospital. The hospital has also been criticized for first sending Duncan home after he complained of fever and abdominal pains following travel in Liberia.


— Daniel Arkin