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. warsteiner

    I am glad to know that the government will do whats necessery to insure our health. If one person get something they need to put him in quarantine if they did this with AIDS in the beginning thousands would still be alive

    October 24, 2010 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Retired3

    WHAT!!!!!! How dare he. How about all the people he terrified????? They should sue him. He had TB and he still went aboard a plane and could have infected everyone on that plane, in the airport and anyone on the street he came in contact with. If it was me in that situation, I would be at his throat already.

    October 24, 2010 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Minnesota old guy

      You must be a republican. I can tell because of your selfishness.

      October 24, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Edward C,

      And Democrats aren't selfish? If a Republican doesn't like guns, he doesn't own one. If a Democrat doesn't like guns, well, NOBODY should own one. The same applies for red meat, and pretty much everything else. Oh, and what about the income a Republican earns, vs. a Democrat? The Republican is selfish because he/she wants to keep his/her hard earned money and doesn't want it going into the welfare slush fund? Welfare babies are the real selfish ones, and last I checked, most of them are Democrats. We do the work; they sit back on their lazy rear ends and collect!!! Anyhow, for the record, I am a Libertarian.

      October 25, 2010 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  3. marc

    ha! ha! He was a major threat to the USA, but just flew into Montreal on an ordinary flight so as to be able to cross the border by car. So much for quarantine.

    October 24, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      You missed the part were he skipped town before they could quarantine him-deliberately left the country 2 days before he was leaving/then booked again when they asked him not to fly until they could get him home safely.

      This was after 9/11 and still whole agencies lost the ball on this jerk.

      October 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. M in Oz

    A lawyer suing for something he started- that's a given isn't it? When do the rights of other people to choose whether they want a serious disease kick in? There are people in this world who deliberately infect other people with STDs too and they have the right to privacy. I deserve the right to choose whether I'm infected with an STD, leprosy, tuberculosis or any other disease sue happy loosers like this have.

    October 24, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Taylor

    Strictly from a legal standpoint, releasing his name and medical history violates the law; however, I believe it would be a difficult to prove that it was the CDC that released his name. The CDC was obligated to inform anyone who may have had contact with this man that they had been exposed (without necessarily mentioning his name) and through the passenger manifest, European hospital records, and even inquiries into chartering an airplane his name could have deduced and leaked to the media.

    October 24, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      Thats why its going to trial. The appeals judge ruled that it was obviously the CDC.

      October 25, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jim Brieske

    tomcat. I think of you whenever I see a dead cat in the road. May even start running them over.
    Julie. You have no right to call me a name. I never called you a name.
    Also you ever presume to know what I would do again and you're done writing of me. You truly haven't a clue, how well I can use words and letters.
    Call me a name again, especially after I have offered the common sense casting feelings aside reply without retaliating by calling the he had coming Razuvious a name, and you will also regret it.
    You are no lady, you are just a female who has a lower I.Q. Gonna get what you deserve, a brilliant word attack like none ever witnessed before if you attack me again after I have not attacked you with name calling.
    Anyone else who has the nerve to write what I would do, you best beware too. Unless it's phil, Michelle or one of our many soldiers who risk their lives or have risked their lives for me so I can get angry and tell deserve-ed people off.

    October 24, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • It's just me again

      Jim, Jim, Jim. What part of the article did you not understand? Listen up Jimmy boy, and the rest of you selfish Republicans! The article is not about Andy flying into Canada and then driving into New York. The article is not about Andy possibly exposing others to TB on a commercial flight. The article is not even about why he is suing the CDC. It's about a higher court saying he has the right to sue the CDC for violating his doctor/patient privilege by releasing private medical information. Helloooooo, anybody home?

      October 24, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • jim'snemisis

      @Jim Brieske – I have no idea who are any of these people you are threatening, but you are certainly way off base. Wow. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      October 24, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jim Brieske

    Sherri W.W. can also write what I would do.

    October 24, 2010 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. John G

    I don't get it. I read over and over again, 'Good for him! Let him sue!' Okay, of course that's his right, but WHO is he suing? He's suing YOU the taxpayer. The individuals who made the poor decisions aren't the ones that are going to eat millions in damages, it's government. The same government that takes money from you and I to cover the costs of lawsuits.

    I'd love, instead, for government to create laws that make it illegal to sue the State, but instead puts the entire burden on the employees that make stupid decisions. Then, allow for an insurance market that government employees must participate in to cover the potential costs of lawsuits. Just like a doctor who must carry a malpractice lawsuit to cover the possibly extensive damages that would result from their misdeeds.

    Only when you put accountability on those that abuse our systems will you get a government that makes fewer of the mistakes that are alleged to have been made here. God, the waste is insane!

    October 24, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • It's just me again

      John, accountability is good, I like it!

      October 24, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Taylor

    ...actually in my previous comment I was wrong in that HIPAA prohibits release of personal medical information that could be connected with an individual (so even if the CDC didn't release the name, under HIPAA his rights were violated because his name could be inferred .) That being said, this case highlights the conflict between the rights of the individual and the obligation to protect the public. Public health trumps his individual rights so although he may have the right to sue, according to the spirit of the law, the CDC had to release his information. I do not think he has a case.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • It's just me again

      Hmmm, compelling argument. Either way this case may set a precedent..

      October 24, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Seriously Folks

      No...HIPAA is set aside if there is threat to the public or others. If I take a friend to the ER and they are bleeding and I have their blood on me. The doctors have every obligation/right to inform me if they know that person is HIV possitive. In this case they likely should not release his name to the entire country, but he would need to prove they are the ones who released it. There were many, many affected by this. There is a huge possibility that someone else figured out who he was and released his name.

      October 24, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      The CDC had no compelling reason to release his name. All they had to do was notify the passengers that someone was infected and/or notify the media of the flight number. His name was not necessary.

      October 25, 2010 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Stacy

      To Seroiusly folks: It Is NOT the doctors job to tell you, he must report it to the board of health, and they must tell anyone who has been exposed, not just you. they cannot drop a name bomb, or they WILL get sued for violating the HIPPA law. If you read it, you would know that.

      October 25, 2010 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel

    What he did in possibly exposing others to TB is not the issue of the law suit folks. The law suit is about the CDC "leaking" PRIVATE doctor/patient medical information to the media which is tantamount to lying to St Peter at the Pearly gates. In other words it's a big deal when you release private info to the public. That's what he is suing for.
    Possibly exposing others to a disease, (the CDC later admitted they were wrong about his diagnosis) flying into Canada instead to avoid quarantine or other issues, especially those related to fear and panic, are just that, other issues to be taken up separately.
    These are postings about the article at hand not tweets to vent on anything under the sun.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • DKJ

      In today world of computers & enternet. there is no real privacy anyway, our health records are out there for any one to see if they learn how. Any good hacker could find the info and release to the press. Money & greed are the bottom lines.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tara

    @Jim Brieske....umadbro?

    October 24, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. DonRoss

    When public health and safety is a concern, privacy such as is related to a communicable disease takes a back seat. The man was foolish but the judges have to allow their fellow lawyers to make a buck (or millions.....)

    October 24, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • DKJ

      Well said. What about all the people he came into contact with? What about their rights to know the person they came in to contact with is carrying a deadly & horrible bacterial infection which could be carried to others or death is likely if not treated within a proper time limit. Inactive or active TB should be enough to stop a person from traveling to other. if he would have done the right think there would been no reason for CDC to release any informantion.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DonRoss

    and if there had been an outbreak related to the potential exposure think of how many lawsuits would have been heaped upon the CDC for failing to protect the public from a known risk. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. It's an ambulance chasing Lawyers' Paradise.

    October 24, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kate

    Regardless, Speaker knew that he was sick with TB, knew that is is not curable, knew that it spreads from person-to-person by breathing it, and flew on an airplane (recirculating air to all passengers) and put everyone's life at risk all because he was selfish and self-centered. And it was just because he wanted to go on vacation.

    This article fails to address the facts as they actually happened and instead rely on Speaker's (a lawyer) lawsuit "allegations."

    Speaker says that the CDC told him he was not contagious. At the time, the CDC said that it told Speaker not to travel until it knew for sure what type of TB he suffered. Speaker traveled anyway. When he got to Europe, the CDC tracked him down and told him to get back to the U.S. When Speaker said he couldn't afford a private charter, the CDC said it would get one to fly him back. As I recall, Speaker then began using false names and eluded police so that he could complete his vacation. He bypassed U.S. security by changing his return flight to Montreal and then driving across the U.S. border (false name?).

    And, several people on his flights were diagnosed with TB – an airborne disease that causes the lungs to bleed and the person dies by drowning in their own blood.

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

      Good job explaining Kate. It baffle me how we have become a society of people who will not take responsbility for their own actions, the blame others , sue and get millions. This is no different then the woman who sue McDonalds because she spilt hot coffee on herself and won the suit. Truly baffling
      I hooe the people that were effect on the plane come out and sue this lawyer for their infections, medical cost & lives. Now that would be justice.

      October 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      Regardless of his wrong actions there was no cause for the CDC to release his identification. It would have been just as effective to tell all passengers that someone on the plane was a carrier and they should get checked.

      October 25, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  15. quitsa

    Obviously, our legal system has nothing to do with right or wrong, moral or immoral only about non-sensical laws that carry no meaning for people. Who the hell cares about privacy invasion when a large number of people are infected with an airborne disease. Would the same be true of the airborne Hanta virs that kills in a number of day?

    October 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
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