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. MannyHM

    Public health officials have the duty to protect the public. The have to inform and trace contacts with every means possible. Abuse of authority is of course something else.

    October 24, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. M in Oz

    Look up Andrew Speaker on Google and see him and his wife wearing face masks. He is happy to protect his wife from his disease, why not every other person he came in contact with? He is a Sociopath.

    October 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Labad

    Why did he wait so long? He couldn't have noticed a change within a year or so? How convenient it comes when the economy is doing so poorly. Too bad it wasn't a stronger strain of TB.

    October 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Maria

    Whatever u guys r just plain stupid for fighting over a decision that has already been made just deal with it!!!!

    October 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • M in Oz

      The decision hasn't been made yet. The deicsion where he gets nothing that is.

      October 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RobbeO

    @ Maria we are plain stupid huh?? is that all you have to say on this (discussion).. Hm there goes that lack of common sense thing right out of the window. I know or believe all folks are educated in some form or fashion and possess common sense or at least a little common sense.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • M in Oz

      Maria was just expressing her superior intellect and miniscule social skills by calling others "stupid". Live and let live.

      October 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Michael Allen

    Yeah...and this guy should be indicted for bio-terrorism...

    Whatever people...this guy was jerked around...CDC and their cohorts deserve to be sued.
    Perhaps the CDC will actually use REAL SCIENCE next time and get their facts straight.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ted


    October 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. US legalese

    In other free countries, if you sue and your lawsuit is found to be false, both you and your attorney are required to pay damages. Not so here in the USA. Here you are encouraged to file frivilous lawsuits without fear of retaliation.

    October 24, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      I agree!

      So quick to gouge a buck out of some one be it a person or business that a whole new cottage industry of PI's who dog the person who is "claiming" injury.

      If more people had to PAY for their stupid lawsuits there would be far less of them.

      October 25, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Gia

    I am forced to ask where all this public outrage was over the CDC's invasion of privacy BEFORE we knew he wasn't contagious. No one seemed to care care about his rights or privacy when Diane Sawyer was grilling him for answers as to why he endangered so many people. In case you had forgotten, the world was outraged with Speaker back in 2007 when all of this initially happened. Funny how no one considered the CDC's actions invasive/illegal until AFTER the notification that the diagnosis was a screw-up. Did any of you question "big brother" then? Of course not. You were far too busy being righteously indignant about some jerk knowingly endangering thousands of lives. Now the CDC was wrong, and you've waffled over to being righteously indignant on his behalf. This is exactly why Americans are annoying. And before you start all the chest-beating about how wonderful the USA is and how much every other country sucks, you should probably give some thought as to why the only people who can stand Americans are other Americans.

    October 25, 2010 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. silvershado

    @Deb- You not only pegged this character but did so elegantly. Kudos, lady!

    October 25, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. publius enigma

    What purpose was served by releasing his name? Wouldnt it have been as effective for the CDC to just inform the passengers that someone on their flight was carrying?

    October 25, 2010 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • e

      He also came into contact with other people, at airports, at the car rental counter, etc, they deserve a chance to know that they are at risk so they can get looked at and treated if needed.

      October 25, 2010 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. Lisa

    It's an outrage what that self-centered guy did. He endangered many innocent lives, including babies. That selfish SOB doesn't deserve a dime. Not a dime. I'd like to sit on that jury. I'd send that guy a message. You don't do whatever you want to the public when you are potentially sick with a deadly disease. The CDC did the right thing warning the public. The public has a right to know. It was a life or death situation. That guy was more worried about himself than anyone else. Nice. Real nice. I hope his wife dumped his sorry butt. If they were both in a sinking boat he'd save himself 1st. No doubt. What ruined everthing for him is that everyone got to see his true colors and wanted nothing to do with the jerk.

    October 25, 2010 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. tomcat

    this man was foolish for his actions. somthing to ponder. since there are no health screenings prior to boarding how do we know another passinger is not infectous?

    October 25, 2010 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. phil

    Hey tomcat. What this guy did pales in significance to the millions and millions of parents who send their sick children to school knowing they are contagious. Not to mention sick employees who think one days pay is worth risking the health of their fellow workers Heck, I bet more damage is done by parents who send their kids to school before they are even potty-trained.

    October 25, 2010 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. e

    He was an idiot who put hundreds of people at risk of getting a disease that can be deadly. He knowingly put himself in extremely small areas with many people KNOWING he carried a highly infectious difficult to treat disease. Of course he will sue, he is a lawyer trying to now profit off of his own idiotic actions. The CDC was doing its job, protecting the public.

    October 25, 2010 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
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