The family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the nation’s first Ebola patient, announced it reached a settlement on Tuesday with Texas Health Resources and commended executives for approving the deal without further litigation.
While financial terms were not disclosed, Dallas-based attorney Les Weisbrod said it is “an outstanding deal” that “was as good or better to what we would’ve done in court.” Texas law places a cap of $250,000 against physicians in malpractice cases and another $250,000 in damages against the hospital.
“I think it’s a very good deal, it will provide for the children and the parents,” he said. “I think it’s as good or better considering the constraints that we have under the law.”
The settlement will go to Duncan’s parents and his four children. One lives in San Angelo, another in Ghana, one in Liberia, and a fourth in North Carolina. They are 12, 18, 19, and 22-years-old. His fiancé, Louise Troh, was not included in the settlement because they were not married.
“In regards to a malpractice claim, she doesn’t have any right in regard to that, unfortunately,” Weisbrod said.
The settlement will be managed by Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, who also acted as the family spokesman. There is a portion set aside to create a charitable foundation in West Africa to help treat and research Ebola there.
Duncan arrived in Texas from Liberia on Sept. 20. He sought care at Texas Health Presbyterian on Sept. 24 and was sent home with antibiotics the next day, despite disclosing that he traveled to Africa and had a recorded fever that spiked to 103 degrees. He was misdiagnosed with sinusitis. He returned on Sept. 28 with more severe symptoms and died on Oct. 8 while receiving care.
The family has criticized Texas Health for its actions, even suggesting in The Dallas Morning News that he was mistreated because of his nationality and his lack of insurance. During the news conference Wednesday, those concerns vanished.
Weeks, a 43-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army, praised Texas Health for analyzing the treatment and quickly installing fixes to correct its missteps. CEO Barclay Berdan said the system has made changes to its electronic health record system to ensure that travel history is clearly highlighted on all caregiver screens. It started a new triage procedure in the emergency department and added a final checkup before sending patients home.
“I believe this facility is an outstanding facility and we as humans are not perfect,” Weeks said. “We make errors, but it’s how you recover from the errors that makes you who you are.”
Texas Health issued a release after the announcement saying it has “amicably resolved all matters with the family of Thomas Eric Duncan.” Weeks said the system’s leaders “took the initiative” to settle the malpractice claim early and was receptive to the desires of Duncan’s family.
Weisbrod, meanwhile, said he hoped the case will shine a light on the epidemic of preventable hospital deaths. He noted a study in the Journal of Patient Safety that found between 210,000 and 400,000 Americans die each year because of errors made in the hospital setting.
“I hope, at least in the United States, that part of the focus will be on the epidemic of preventable medical errors,” Weisbrod said. “This is a case that illustrates that.”