Ever since the United States experienced its first Ebola death, uncertainty looms over the proper way to contain the virus and the appropriate measures that governments should take to prevent an outbreak. Three states, New Jersey, New York and Illinois, have imposed quarantines on anyone arriving with a “high risk” of having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Kaci Hickox, a nurse who volunteered to help with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was quarantined upon her return to the U.S. According to Hickox, she exhibited no symptoms of the disease and found herself to be otherwise completely healthy. The White House has expressed concerns over the quarantine policies, arguing that the quarantine policies are not grounded in science and reiterating that Ebola is difficult to catch.
We may have the opportunity to see this saga play out in the courtroom, as Hickox has indicated that she plans to file suit on the basis that the quarantine violated her Constitutional rights. According to Hickox’s lawyer: “She’s fine. She’s not sick . . . . She went and did a magnanimous thing and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, not put in isolation because some political leaders decided it looks good to do that.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out if Hickox does file suit. Regardless of the outcome, the legal industry should be prepared to deal with Ebola-related issues. International law firm Reed Smith, has announced the formation of a Global Ebola Task Force, and more firms will likely follow suit.
On a related note, an interesting article examining medical malpractice-based Ebola lawsuits against the backdrop of Texas “tort reform” litigation is located here.