Judge questions hospital company’s motive in Ebola nurse’s lawsuit

From The Dallas News

A judge says documents that weren’t turned over to nurse Nina Pham’s attorneys could be damaging to the company Pham is suing after she contracted Ebola.

In a hearing Monday, state District Judge Martin Hoffman said that if the documents had been improperly withheld by Texas Health Resources or its insurance company, he could impose sanctions.

During the hearing, the judge extended a restraining order to prevent the companies from pursuing a workers’ compensation claim with the state.

Pham’s attorneys have said that claim is an attempt to kill their lawsuit against the company, which owns Texas Health Presbyterian of Dallas.

Because of the way workers’ compensation claims are structured in Texas, Pham’s lawsuit would effectively be quashed if Texas Health Resources is determined to be a co-employer.

Pham, along with nurse Amber Vinson, contracted Ebola in October at Presbyterian while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first U.S. patient diagnosed with Ebola.

Pham’s attorney, Brent Walker, said Monday that when notes from Texas Health Resources’ insurance adjuster’s files were turned over during deposition last week, they did not include some “key things.”

He said they had asked for the files but did not receive them.

An attorney for Texas Health Resources said the files had no relevance to the case.

But after flipping through a few pages, the judge said some of the information was “really very relevant” and left the bench to discuss the files further with attorneys on both sides.

Hoffman said that he had “serious concerns” about things in the documents and that they “appear to be very damaging” to Texas Health Resources.

“If it turns out that these were wrongfully withheld, I will consider sanctions against … the appropriate parties,” he said.

The judge extended the restraining order until July 13. There will be depositions and hearings in the interim.

Lawyers for Texas Health Resources did not comment after the hearing.

Pham was out of town Monday, but her lawyer, Charla Aldous, said she felt “very frustrated.”

“We have been playing these games with THR since the filing of this lawsuit,” she said. “The company has publicly said they want to take care of Nina and do the right thing by her, but what they’ve been doing in this lawsuit is completely contrary to that.”

Aldous said they are unsure what might be in the documents.

“We believed these documents existed all along. We’ve had to fight and claw and do everything within our power to uncover these documents so the truth can come out,” she said.

Pham, who recovered from Ebola but has ongoing health problems from the disease and experimental drugs, is seeking unspecified damages and alleges that Texas Health Resources’ lack of training and not providing proper protective gear caused her to contract Ebola.

The lawsuit, filed in March, also alleges that the hospital released information about her to the public without her permission.

The suit cannot proceed to a jury trial until the issue of workers’ compensation is settled.

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