October 23rd, 2010
10:06 PM ET

Man who sparked tuberculosis scare can sue CDC, court rules

An American lawyer who sparked a tuberculosis scare in 2007 after flying to Europe and back while infected with the disease can sue the U.S. government for privacy invasion, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Andrew Speaker became the first American to be quarantined since 1963 for a rare form of tuberculosis after returning from his European wedding.

Speaker first tested positive for tuberculosis in March 2007, according to court documents. During his treatment, he alleges that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became aware of his travel plans and assured him he was not contagious.

After he left, the CDC reclassified his tuberculosis as extensively drug-resistant, a more virulent strain, and urged him to return on a chartered flight at his own expense.

Unable to afford a private plane, Speaker says, he booked a commercial flight to Montreal, Quebec, and drove overland to New York, where he checked into a hospital and was served with a federal quarantine order.

Ultimately, his elevated diagnosis proved erroneous, but not before his identity was released to national media outlets, court documents state.

The Georgia-based attorney apologized on national television but later sued the government, saying the publicity destroyed his marriage, damaged his  professional reputation and subjected him to criticism and false allegations that he was forced to defend.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a lower court and said Speaker could sue the CDC for disclosing his identity and confidential medical information related to his treatment based on a "reasonable inference" that the CDC was the source of the disclosure.

Read the appeals court decision

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Filed under: Courts • Health
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Yoyo

    What??? What??? WHAT????

    October 23, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • evoc

      It was a good-faith error on the CDC's part...they believed he was highly contagious, and were protecting society. He wasn't even married then. His dopey girlfriend sat by his side during the TV interviews. If he married her, and that went badly, it is not the government's fault.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • junior

      There is no such thing as a lawyer with a good reputation.

      October 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      junior, I agree...particularly lawyers like John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas & Samuel Alito.

      October 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete H

    What this man went through was wrong. I hope he gets millions.

    October 24, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • catmomof13

      Agree! This was Big Brother' arrogance at its finest! Its only a shame that the officals that are responsible can pay for their arrogance with tax dollars. They should be held personally responsible and not be able to hide behind job immunity!

      October 24, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      You are correct "Pete H" and you should pay for it.

      October 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      Hey Moron, that "millions" is going to be coming out of YOUR wallet in some form

      October 24, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      The scare he put thousands via 7 planes/airports/restaurants/hotels etc... through is ridiculous Odyssey that he had to go on.

      He infect 8 people who came forward from his numerous flights. IT could have been deadly and much worse.

      October 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marine1

      You realize that this would be your tax dollars going in his wallet? Or do you just another crazy left-winger who feels like the government should redistribute wealth? This is precisely the problem with this country. We are far too litigious and everyone wants a quick buck without working for it. You're the same person that would be in line to file a class-action suit against the government had you been infected and the CDC hadn't quarantined him. GET A GRIP, AND A JOB!

      October 24, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jim Brieske

    Okay this man decided to sneak around the authorities and board a commercial flight jeopardizing other passengers instead of checking into a $60 a night motel and await what would have eventually been approval to board a commercial flight. Now some moronic judges are saying he can sue people because he chose to be an impatient patient.
    There is something seriously wrong with our country. The culture of judges allowing people to sue needs to end.
    I don't know if there should be a sort of cleansing like Kings have done in the past. The great inquisition, The McCarthy hearings, Ralph Nader getting rid of Corvairs and Clearasil removing acne. Oh what's the name of the actress Adam introduced me to? Helena Boham Carter, "Off with their head." That's it.
    Why stop it? We've lost our muchness. Can't afford it.
    Just like you can not hide something because of advanced communication technology. You will get in a big hole. There must be suffering on the level of The Great Depression. Because that's where you are.
    jim

    October 24, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Razuvious

      Did you not read the entire article? It said that they told him that he was NOT contagious and that it would be safe for him to fly. Then, when they upgraded his diagnosis, they TOLD him to board a flight on his own to return to the US. Read before you post, moron.

      October 24, 2010 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      All that is irrelevant to the lawsuit. The CDC had NO right to release that information to the media.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      What the article doesn't say is the CDC told him to wait and he gave them a different flying date. He re-booked to an early flight and skipped town. He then was told to stay put overseas while two countries were trying to find a way to get him treatment and back home-in the meantime he snuck out again and he then flew to Canada and drove across the border.

      October 24, 2010 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      Thank you Deb, for explaining the TRUTH. Now all you sympathizers, especially the one calling people "Moron" can pay for his Law Suit out of YOUR own pockets. Me thinks you wouldn't cry foul so fast next time. Gezzz

      October 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      The Judges that make bad decisions like these are incompetent, and should be booted off the job, same as anyone else. People, who are able to learn common sence at all, do so by experience AND knowledge. Oh wait, that's what us old people were taught. I guess times have changed, right? BS!

      October 24, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Lane

      The right to sue in order to obtain justice is an important human right. If you have been shafted by public officials or by private individuals or a corporation, you need the right to sue their britches off. Without, the government and individuals and companies will screw people with impunity and without any incentive not to.

      October 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      The right to sue might be there but I hope some really smart citizens/judges nail his butt for the obvious holes in his story.

      He picked very gray areas,they told him he was not contagious but they CDC says they used the word HIGHLY. Because this was the first test, not the one that they had a false positive that it was highly contagious drug resistant. This man then went ahead and booked a flight days earlier than what he told them he would be leaving and then when they asked him to sit tight and not go on anymore flights he books off on the first flight to Canada, rents a car and crosses the border looking for a loophole-there was-a stupid guard ignored the warning and let him pass.

      October 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kairagan

    Its my understanding, whether I agree or not, that he is suing because his name was released by the CDC to the media which violated his right to privacy...NOT because he chose to be inpatient at a hospital.

    October 24, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      No he didn't do what he was told when he had active TB. He told them he was flying on X date but CHANGED flights and bugged out. Then when it appeared in initial tests that he had a highly infectious resistant form of TB he was told to stay put again and skipped into Canada then over the border.

      This man had the potential to infect thousands via his travels.. NOW he wants to sue? I hope everyone on his flights to and from sue him for the scare he gave them all.

      October 24, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      It was only "after" he disappeared and was traveling under a different name to get to Canada.

      The CDC is about PUBLIC health not that of some jackazz lawyer who twists things into shades of gray. He infected 8 people who are suing him. HAD it been the deadly resistant form of TB, I would think all of you sympathizers would be screaming that the CDC didn't do enough to protect the public at large.

      October 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ag

    By releasing his name and medical condition, didn't CDC violate HIPAA?

    October 24, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      Not when he violated the orders of the CDC not to fly in the first place.

      October 24, 2010 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Annie Sisk

      Deb, your facts are wrong. He was not ordered not to fly. They in fact told him he COULD fly, and only later suggested that he come back on a chartered flight. From EUROPE. Hello? Do you have ANY idea how much that costs? it's well beyond the means of practicality for every single person I know, let's put it that way – and I know a few lawyers.

      And to top it all off – they were WRONG. Regardless of any of that, however, CDC most certainly DID violate HIPAA, and needs to pay for it.

      October 24, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      anne-

      No I am not wrong, they highly discouraged him from travel, they recommended he not fly and get treatments.

      He took off earlier than he told them to go onto his wedding and honeymoon:
      Gerberding said health officials in Fulton County, Ga., knew that Speaker had tuberculosis that was resistant to antibiotics and that he had travel plans. They met with him on May 10.

      In the following days, county health officials tried to serve Speaker with written notice summarizing what was discussed at the meeting, including advice that he not travel. But they could not find him. He flew from the U.S. on May 12 for his wedding and honeymoon.

      Speaker told lawmakers that doctors recommended he not travel, but they never said he was contagious or a threat to others. A county official disputed Speaker's recollection.

      "I was not in the meeting, but the patient's chart indicates that he was told he was not highly contagious," said Dr. Steven Katkowsky, director of the county's Health and Wellness Department.

      Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, questioned the CDC's ability to take quick and decisive action.

      Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that questioned Gerberding, said the agency was notified May 18 that Speaker had multiple drug resistant tuberculosis, but the Homeland Security Department was not told until four days later. Speaker was not placed on a no-fly list until May 24.

      "Again, with the rapidity of world travel today, it seems to me that this time frame should have been collapsed to just a few hours," Harkin said.

      Said Gerberding: "I think we should have done it faster, and I think we'll be able to accelerate this next time. In retrospect, that was a mistake and I wish we had done it differently."
      source: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,279912,00.html

      go to wiki to see his flights and the THOUSANDS of people he exposed. They confirmed after he took off that he had potently deadly resistant form of TB

      I have a brother who had TB he was told to wear a mask, not be in confined places(like a plane) and to expose as few people as possible.

      Anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that there is a risk-Speaker took a lot of risk for a lot of people. He got 8 people sick that have come forward to sue his butt.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      Deb the one thing does not justify the other. The CDC had the right to inform passengers that someone on the flight was infected and they should get checked out. They had NO right to divulge his name. If you want to punish him for what he did the proper course is through the courts, not the media.

      October 25, 2010 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      So according to Deb the privacy protections in HIPPA apply only to those who follow the suggestions of the CDC? How about their medical care providers? If I keep smoking after my doctor tells me to stop can he take out an advertisement and include private medical information about me? And is it fine for his rights to be removed by the CDC without any finder of fact determining what he was told and when? It's not a right or a protection if some government functionary can relieve you of it because you didn't do what they said with no trial or even charges. Clearly there's a violation here.

      October 25, 2010 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Stacy

      You are correct the HIPPA law violation carries far more weight in a legal setting than the fact that this guy flew sick on an airplane. He will win, because the government agencies can't follow their own rules.

      October 25, 2010 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      I think HIPAA rights and privacy laws extend only so far. When a disease is a public health risk, particularly a perceived virulent form of TB, or if an individual is a public danger to themselves or others (someone who is schizophrenic and also homicidal), those rights are lost. Were he to remain to hear from CDC, and maintain clarity with the CDC, his HIPAA privacy laws would not likely of had been "violated"- when you disappear, the CDC, with the provisions of the government, you lose your right to it. I don't distinctly remember hearing the CDC openly reveal any information about prior medical history, surgical history, current medications he is taking, family history. The only information publicly revealed was that he carried virulent TB, and that he disappeared with probable intent to return to the US. If you were at the helm of the CDC, and you have to make the call, what would you do? Remember, HIPAA is very discrete in the exceptions to privacy, and I think that he clearly fit the exception (and remember, only the public health risk portion of his medical record is revealed)

      October 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      Brandon

      I think HIPAA rights and privacy laws extend only so far. When a disease is a public health risk, particularly a perceived virulent form of TB, or if an individual is a public danger to themselves or others (someone who is schizophrenic and also homicidal), those rights are lost. Were he to remain to hear from CDC, and maintain clarity with the CDC, his HIPAA privacy laws would not likely of had been "violated"- when you disappear, the CDC, with the provisions of the government, you lose your right to it. I don't distinctly remember hearing the CDC openly reveal any information about prior medical history, surgical history, current medications he is taking, family history. The only information publicly revealed was that he carried virulent TB, and that he disappeared with probable intent to return to the US. If you were at the helm of the CDC, and you have to make the call, what would you do? Remember, HIPAA is very discrete in the exceptions to privacy, and I think that he clearly fit the exception (and remember, only the public health risk portion of his medical record is revealed)
      ----–

      Thanks Brandon good answer.

      This point makes it clear-he was a medical time bomb accordingly the CDC who advised him not to travel-he knew this and ducked out 2 days earlier than the he orginally told the CDC were his travel plans. Then AFTER he was contacted in Europe, and asked to stay put until they found a way to either treat him there or bring him back. HE RAN AGAIN. They had no idea were he was at or flights he was on. HIS privacy on this MATTER ended when he ignored the warning NOT to travel and did anyway then repeated that little stunt when he was told NOT to travel yet again and ran.

      It was not ONE plane but seven flights:

      Flight itinerary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_tuberculosis_scare
      Look under flights he took. He didn't give a damn about the people he exposed.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. publius enigma

    You break the law you pay for any damages incurred. If the CDC broke the law and caused him damages then they are liable.

    October 24, 2010 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      But they didn't break the law and I am sure it will come out in court.
      HE broke the law by traveling with a known communicable disease that he knew was contagious-his future in law works in CDC in TB research. The guy is an attorney and not stupid just DUMB. Andrew claimed they said he was not contagious. The CDC at the time thought is it was not "highly" contagious, told him to wait to travel and this was BEFORE they thought it was the RESISTANT form of TB, which caused his flight to Europe and back home . , his words. Well on a plane with recirculated air is exposing many people when you sneeze/cough/breathe.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. kathy

    Ok, let's sue the gov for all our personal problems, get a life loser!

    October 24, 2010 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      He has every right to sue, the CDC breached confidentiality with his information and records. It's not a "personal problem", moron–it's his personal and confidential information, which is protected by law. You'd sue the pants off someone who exposed your information like this, and don't pretend on your high horse that you wouldn't. What they did was wrong, illegal, and could have ruined much in his life. He should sue, and if he does, he'll win a large amount.

      October 24, 2010 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. tomcat

    @kathy this could be dicey. was his dr patient rights exposed? since the cdc is a gov agency are they not responsible? another way to say this kathy you go to your md for a rash anxiety or whatever would you want your friends and neighbors to know? i doubt it. see my point?

    October 24, 2010 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. jacques

    This guy have every right to sue CDC.for the simple reason CDC rushed to judment or perhaps they were under pressure ,

    October 24, 2010 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. tomcat

    also you have insurance at your work. i will bet that if you went in for a physical and they found say cancer. how long would you be on the payroll? big companies want to make money they dont want someone that could be one of many burdens on the bottom for years to come. why do we have to see drs in the network? because these drs report to their bosses who report to their bosses who say john doe could cost us let him go give him a package deal and now on to the next victim. i pass my soap box to another

    October 24, 2010 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      What has this got to do with the CDC?

      It's sole job is to protect the public at large from douchbags like this guy. He got flagged because he refused to obey the simplist thing-not travel with active TB.

      I worked for a company that knew I had cancer and let me tell you they didn't can me but supported me in my quest to gain back my heath.

      October 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tomcat

    @jacques comment allez vous? je sui d texas et vous

    October 24, 2010 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jim Brieske

    Razuvious. It does not matter whether the CDC was wrong. They told him not to fly commercial. The CDC protects people from harm. If a standard is set that people do not have to follow the CDCs orders then we are having a dangerous standard set.
    Furthermore the CDC will become over cautious if successfully sued and that endangers more people. Finally, the potential for people to disregard the CDC is created.
    Allowing the CDC to be sued is the first step toward these outcomes. The risks far outweigh any financial compensation this man deserves.
    jim

    October 24, 2010 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      I agree!

      October 26, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. tomcat

    @julie kudos

    October 24, 2010 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. mija

    I'm not fully aware of all the intricate details, but was his status leaked to the media after he took the unauthorized commercial flight home? I fully realize that's no reason to divulge an individuals private medical information, but if he couldn't afford a private jet why not inquire other alternitves until he could travel. The CDC has plenty of ties overseas. After being given one option after you are told about the seriousness must be horrific. It just seems like there was negligence on both sides.

    October 24, 2010 at 5:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Seriously Folks

      HIPAA protects a patient's right to privacy, however if there is a threat to the health of others then privacy takes a back seat. Perhaps the correct route of notification was to let each person on the flight with him know. That still likely would have led to him being named publicly. It would not take a rocket scientist to figure out which passenger it was and the other passengers would not be bound by HIPAA at all. For those stating they hope he gets millions....get your checkbook out because that bill is the taxpayers.

      October 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edward C,

      I would rather my tax money go to him, rather than the D.E.A. so they can fill up our prisons with more potheads. Because we need more pedophiles and murderers out on the street, right?

      October 25, 2010 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. Raleigh

    testing

    October 24, 2010 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
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