The 2014 Ebola outbreak has been by far the deadliest outbreak since the Ebola virus was first diagnosed and recorded. Most of the infection is concentrated in West Africa, however, several cases have been reported in the western world, including the United States. Most cases in the United States have been reported in hospitals or had to do with medical staff who at some point cared for patients in Africa, have since returned. and began experiencing symptoms before any quarantine accommodations could be established..
Ebola is a virus with a very long gestation period — you can be infected anywhere and show symptoms anywhere from 4 to 21 days after exposure. Ebola is not an airborne disease – it can only be picked up via direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. Unfortunately, that puts health care workers and medical staff, who care for multiple patients on a daily basis, at an elevated risk for picking up this horrible virus.
One question we’ve gotten frequently from medical professionals of late has been whether or not doctors and nurses can be held liable for patient exposure to Ebola. While there are many shades of gray, the short and very direct answer is: Yes.
We live in an extremely litigious society where the pursuit of damages through legal channels is very common, popular and successful multi-million dollar industry. Even if a claim is outrageous or erroneous, there is a likely chance that at least some attorney is going to pick up and run with it at the chance of collecting millions for the alleged victim.
Due to the long incubation period of Ebola, it is often unclear whether a person is sick with Ebola while they are just experiencing the symptoms of a common cold or flu. This makes it difficult to diagnose whether or not the patient should be immediately quarantined, or simply sent home with a prescription of meds, plenty of fluids and rest. A patient with Ebola left in the waiting room can lead to multiple liability claims against the hospital or private practice staff for “Failing to properly quarantine an Ebola patient, thereby endangering other patients.” Keep in mind that it would be nearly impossible and financially unfeasible for hospitals and private to quarantine every single patient exhibiting flu-like symptoms that could potentially, eventually be Ebola. Where there is a risk of a potential Ebola host being left un-quarantined, there is a risk of a potential liability suit. Likewise, the failure to immediately diagnose Ebola in a patient exhibiting flu-like symptoms can also lead to a potential liability claim from the patient.
In the event of a claim, it is most likely that your hospital carries liability insurance, but keep in mind that it is intended to protect the hospital and not you. In the event that you specifically are named in a medical liability lawsuit, having your own, additional coverage would be extremely helpful in covering the necessary expenses, and ensuring that the litigation and potential lawsuit does not significantly damage your way of life or career.