Duncan's family reaches 'resolution' with hospital

Attorneys representing the family of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan said they have reached a "resolution" with the Dallas hospital that treated him before he died on October 8.

During a news conference Wednesday, the family's attorney said Texas Health Resources has set up a charitable trust in honor of Duncan to help Ebola victims in West Africa.

Attorney Les Weisbrod declined to say how much the settlement was worth, but said it was a "very good deal" that would provide for Duncan's parents and his four children. Besides the settlement, the hospital system has also agreed to pay for the medical care he received.

During the conference, the family said they would like to a pursue book or movie deal to tell Duncan's story.

The family says the CEO of Texas Health Resources has personally written a letter to apologize and they don't believe the case had anything to do with race or insurance coverage, just inadequate policies and procedures when it comes to treating Ebola.

"As part of the healing process, we have again extended our sincere apologies to the family and shared our regret that the diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease was not made at the time of Mr. Duncan's initial Emergency Department visit," said Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas spokesperson Candace White in a statement. "[...] Texas Health Dallas greatly appreciates the acknowledgment by the family's attorney that Mr. Duncan's inpatient care was excellent. We are grateful to reach this point of reconciliation and healing for all involved."

Duncan arrived in Texas from his native Liberia on September 20. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said he sought medical care at the emergency room of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on September 25, complaining of abdominal pain, dizziness, nausea and headaches. Duncan reportedly told health care workers that he had been in Africa, but the attending physician was not alerted to that crucial fact.

Duncan was sent home after spending five hours at the hospital, during which time his temperature had been recorded at 103 degrees.

Duncan returned to the hospital in an ambulance on September 30 and subsequently became the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, and the only one to die of the disease in this country.

The agreement heads off a potential lawsuit from relatives of Thomas Eric Duncan.

Weisbrod and Duncan's nephew, Josephus Weeks, both credited Presbyterian's officials for moving quickly to settle the case and for acknowledging the hospital's mistakes.

"I believe this facility is an outstanding facility," Weeks said. "It's how you recover from an error that makes you who you are."

Duncan's family would have faced a very high bar had they filed a lawsuit against Presbyterian hospital. Texas medical malpractice law places a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages related to pain and suffering in almost all cases.

It also gives extra protection to emergency room doctors and nurses. Instead of just proving that Duncan's doctors were negligent in his care, Duncan's family would have to prove that any negligence was "willful and wanton" — essentially, that doctors knew they were causing harm when they treated Duncan.

"The standard of proof is gross negligence, which I believe we could have met in this case, but it's an onerous standard," Weisbrod said. He added that he believes the settlement is "as good or better" than if the family had filed a lawsuit.

Louise Troh, Duncan's fiancee, will not receive anything in the settlement, Weisbrod said.

Two Texas Health Presbyterian nurses who cared for Duncan became infected with Ebola, but later recovered.

A quick resolution to Duncan's case also benefits parent company Texas Health Resources, which faced weeks of negative publicity over its handling of the case and saw patient visits plummet immediately afterward.

Visits to Presbyterian's emergency room fell more than 50 percent during the first 20 days of October, and the hospital's overall patient census fell 21 percent.

The hospital released the following statement after the press conference Wednesday:

"We know that this has been a terribly sad, difficult and trying time for Mr. Duncan's family and friends, and they will continue to be in the hearts and prayers of the entire Texas Health Presbyterian family.

As part of the healing process, we have again extended our sincere apologies to the family and shared our regret that the diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease was not made at the time of Mr. Duncan's initial Emergency Department visit. The hospital is honoring Mr. Duncan's memory by facilitating the creation of the Texas Health Dallas Thomas Eric Duncan Memorial Fund for the express purpose of providing assistance to victims of Ebola in Africa.

Texas Health Dallas greatly appreciates the acknowledgment by the family's attorney that Mr. Duncan's inpatient care was excellent. We are grateful to reach this point of reconciliation and healing for all involved.

Today's resolution with the Duncan family serves as an example of the common-sense Texas laws that allow discussions to take place immediately and be resolved quickly. As a result, healthcare organizations, patients and family members are able to resolve matters fairly and equitably."

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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