Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of the Ebola virus on U.S. soil, was not diagnosed correctly on his initial visit to the hospital, despite the fact that he informed the hospital of his recent visit to Liberia, where it is well-known that the disease is prevalent.
Duncan went to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 25th. There he told a nurse of his recent return from Liberia. However, he was sent home from the emergency room with only a prescription for antibiotics. Three days later on Sept. 28th, Duncan was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Ebola after his symptoms had noticeably worsened. While the hospital originally stated that they had not been made aware of Duncan’s recent travel to Liberia, it later amended its statement and noted that it had been made aware.
The failure of a health care provider to diagnose a medical condition can be grounds for a medical malpractice suit. Duncan’s estate could argue that the hospital’s failure to diagnose Duncan’s Ebola was medically negligent. However, because of Texas’ strict medical malpractice laws, especially concerning emergency room malpractice, his estate may not have grounds for a case in the state. This is because in Texas, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a health care provider in an emergency room setting acted in a way that was "willfully and wantonly negligent." Essentially, the hospital would have had to have known that Duncan had Ebola and released him anyway in order for their to be grounds for malpractice. Texas’ strict medical malpractice laws (as a result of tort reform which began in 2003) have reduced the rate of malpractice claims in the state by 60% since reform began, making it more difficult for medical malpractice victims to seek and receive justice in the state.