January 07, 2016 Practice Points

Hospital Argues That Texas Court Lacked Jurisdiction in Ebola Nurse's Case

Texas Health Resources claims that the suit should be moved from the state court to the state workers’ comp division.

By Eric W. Shannon

A hospital chain being sued by a nurse who contracted Ebola has asked a Texas appeals court to let it move a dispute over her employment status to the state workers’ compensation agency, saying the lower court that barred it from doing so lacked jurisdiction. On December 23, 2015, Texas Health Resources (THR), owner of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, asked a Texas appeals court to reverse a temporary injunction granted in October by a Dallas County district judge. The injunction kept Nurse Nina Pham’s negligence lawsuit in state court, instead of transferring it to the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Worker’s Compensation, where THR claims the suit belongs.

Specifically, THR argues that the lower court’s decision should be reversed because the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the issue of its co-employer status. According to THR, this issue falls within the purview of the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) pursuant to the state worker’s compensation statute. THR claims that because Pham’s suit raises questions about the hospital’s policies and procedures, and because her injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment, the proper forum for resolution of her claims is in the workers’ comp program. Pham however contends that THR is a third party—not her employer—and that she thus has the right to pursue her claims in a public forum, not within an administrative agency.

THR stated in its brief, “Before Pham’s personal injury lawsuit for damages can proceed, the DWC first must decide whether THR was a co-employer of Pham at the time of her work-related injury.” If THR had been Pham’s co-employer at such time, THR argues, then the Texas Worker’s Compensation Act “provides Pham’s exclusive remedy, and she may not recover damages against THR.”

Pham’s condition made national news in the fall of 2014 when several individuals were diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Pham recovered and subsequently sued THR in March 2015, claiming that its hospital was both negligent in ignoring the dangers of the Ebola virus, and that it invaded her privacy through its public-campaign-like actions during the course of her illness. A trial is currently slated for October 2016.

For more information on the topic of Ebola, be sure to check out the Health Law Litigation Committee-sponsored roundtable, Ebola and the Public Health System: Risk Management and Legal Duties in Fighting a Deadly Infectious DiseaseThe panel, consisting of a healthcare attorney, a hospital executive, and a public-health official, highlight and debate the issues presented by the spread of Ebola to the United States.

— Eric W. Shannon, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, NY


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