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. julie

    I agree with many of you if someone has a contagious disease they should be quartined. He put many lives in danger. TB is deadly and now there is a new form which is drug resistant if he had infected many others and they had infected others with out knowing it could turned into a pandemic. Cdc has a hard job and I feel when it comes to protecting the public they should do what they have to to protect the rest of us. I saw a story on this on tv and what we have have done is bred these super bugs. This guy should not get a cent he knew he did wrong let him pay for it not us.

    October 25, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Matt

    I think this is entertaining to hear so many opinions, not at all based on fact. Please, take the time, as I did, to read the complaint and the judges decision. There were three test before he left, all of which showed it wasn't xdr tb, but mdr tb. The test take about 8 weeks to get a result. Three months before he left there was a CDC memo that said they needed a case of xdr tb to highly publicize to get more funding. He was told by CDC that he was not contagious and that they would start treatment after his trip. Even when he was over in Europe, after the changed his diagnosis to xdr tb, they told him he was still not contagious. After he left, a week later, they had a different test result, from a test that should take 8 weeks, that now said it was xdr tb. They never told the public about all the conflicting test results. They never mentioned that this wasn't a complete test. When Speaker asked for a sample he was told they lost the sample that showed xdr tb. They stated at the press conferences that they didn't know he was leaving on a trip, the court said this clearly conflicted with the evidence. They released his information to create a big media storm and get more funding. That is why he is suing.

    October 26, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
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