Civil law suits were filed in a Montreal court yesterday against Andrew Speaker, the 31 year old lawyer from Atlanta, US, who flew to Europe while infected with a drug resistant strain of TB two months ago.

According to a report from the Associated Press (AP) in Montreal, the plaintiffs are nine people; eight fellow air passengers and a brother and roommate of one of them. They are suing him for potentially exposing them to the disease. Representing them is Montreal lawyer Anlac Nguyen.

A CTV news report said that the nine people comprise five Montreal residents, two Ottawa residents and two Czech citizens. Between them they are seeking a total of 1.37 million Canadian dollars (1.31 USD).

Speaker was already in Europe, on his honeymoon, when health officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned him he should not take another international flight because tests he took back in the US had shown he had XDR-TB, the extremely drug resistant form of the disease which can be deadly – because it is very hard to treat.

He should be in isolation, they told him, and he should check himself into a local hospital or take a private plane back to the US and check into a hospital there to be treated.

However, Speaker chose to take a Czech state-run airline flight from Prague to Montreal and then drove into the US.

Nguyen told Reuters that Mr Speaker took the flight after he had been warned not to, he defied the order, he said. There could be more lawsuits in the next few weeks as at least four more fellow travelers have contacted him, said Nguyen.

Nguyen said that his clients had endured financial loss, anxiety and depression while they were forced to put their lives on hold. They may not know for years if they will get TB because of this, he said, and they are suffering because of that uncertainty. One of the plaintiffs has tested positive for TB but some experts said it was not a reliable test and it also would not show if the infection resulted from contact with Speaker.

When Speaker returned to the US, he became the first person to be quarantined since 1963. He is still being treated in isolation in the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. He told the press he has not hired a lawyer and is focusing on getting better. He said he will worry about the legal problems when he gets back home to Atlanta.

Another test has since revealed that Speaker does not have XDR-TB but MDR-TB, a multi-drug resistant form, which is more treatable.

The principal plaintiff is Nassim Tabri. According to the CTV report he is suing for 142,000 dollars. He is a student doing a Master’s thesis which requires him to travel but he has had to put that on hold while he awaits the results of tests. The main claim of his suit is loss of opportunity. His brother, who roommates with him, is suing for 30,000 dollars.

Nassim said Speaker’s behavior was reckless and selfish and should be punished. He had been sitting in the row in front of Speaker.

Health officials are continuing to monitor the health of the 29 passengers on the flight from Prague. They say the risk that anyone will have been infected is very low.

Until Speaker gets better and returns home to Atlanta, his side of the case will not be aired, and many questions remain which no doubt he will raise.

For example, if he posed a danger to the public, then why weren’t the authorities in Europe alerted and why didn’t they force him into isolation? If the answer to that question is that the risk of infecting others was so low that it would not justify such an action, then perhaps that could form part of his response to these claims.

From a public health risk assessment point of view this remains an intriguing scenario and no doubt we will hear more about that side of it as the case unfolds.

Click here for more information about XDR-TB (World Health Organization article for Medical News Today).

Click here for CTV news report.

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today