Nine File Suit Against TB-Infected Man

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

MONTREAL – Nine people filed a $1.3 million lawsuit Thursday against the globe-trotting tuberculosis patient for possibly exposing them to the disease on a commercial flight from Prague to Montreal.

Montreal lawyer Anlac Nguyen filed the motion in Quebec Superior Court on behalf of seven Canadians and two natives of the Czech Republic. Eight were passengers on the flight with Andrew Speaker and the ninth is a brother and roommate of one of the passengers.

Speaker, a 31-year-old Atlanta personal injuries attorney, was in Europe when he learned tests showed he had an extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis known as XDR-TB.

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Despite warnings from health officials not to board another international flight, Speaker took a Czech state-run CSA jetliner to Montreal in early May as part of his return trip home. He subsequently became the first American quarantined by the federal government since 1963, and is currently undergoing treatment under isolation in a Denver hospital.

Health officials now say Speaker’s strain of TB is not the extremely drug resistant kind but a more treatable, multi-drug-resistant form of the disease. They say tests so far indicate his risk of spreading the infection are low.

“They do not have tuberculosis, but nobody can say that they won’t have tuberculosis either,” Nguyen said of his clients. “And that will not be known, not now, not next year, but for many years in the future, so the pain and suffering that the people have gone through are real. They continue to suffer now because of the uncertainty.”

While in Rome, Speaker said he was advised by a CDC official that test results indicated he had extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, and should either go into isolation at an Italian hospital or pay for a private air ambulance to return to the U.S.

Speaker is being treated in isolation at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. Contacted by telephone, Speaker said he has not hired an attorney. He said he is concentrating on his treatment and will worry about any legal ramifications when he returns to his home in Atlanta.

“Honestly, right now, I’m going to have all that kind of stuff to think about when I get home,” he said. “Right now I want to worry about my treatment and get home. I do hope that no one contracted this.”

Speaker’s father Ted _ a lawyer who founded the Atlanta firm where his son works _ said they would wait until the lawsuit is served before responding.

“When they do serve him we will be replying to it,” said Ted Speaker, who added that he was not surprised by the lawsuit.

Nassim Tabri sat one row in front of Speaker. Tabri, a 26-year-old Montreal graduate student, found out about his possible exposure when a reporter called him after news of the incident broke last month.

He is seeking $134,900 _ the highest amount sought among the nine plaintiffs, mostly for pain, suffering and “loss of opportunities”.

“At the very first moment that I found out, I was obviously very stressed, very shocked,” said Tabri, who slept through most of the flight. “I’m still very stressed out about it. He deliberately got on this plane, endangered our lives and this is very selfish and reckless behavior that deserves to be punished.”

Nguyen said one of the plaintiffs, a 72-year-old man, tested positive for tuberculosis in an initial skin test, but it was unclear if it was related to contact with Speaker.

Health experts caution that TB skin tests can yield false-positive results and that further tests are required.

The man now lives in a separate room from his wife, according to the motion.

Public Health Agency of Canada spokesman Alain Desroches said “at this point there is no evidence that any one on the flight contracted TB from Andrew Speaker.”

Tabri said he had a negative test for tuberculosis, which he said meant only that he had not been exposed to the disease prior to his contact with Speaker. Tabri said that he anxiously awaits results of further tests within a month.

“His life has gone through the greatest turmoil,” Nguyen said. “He has had to change all his academic plans.”

Nguyen said he expects Speaker will be served by a bailiff within the next five to 10 days.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)