Eight fellow passengers of a tuberculosis-infected man are suing him for $1.3 million as a result of their possible exposure to the disease on a commercial flight from Prague to Montreal in late May.
Montreal lawyer Anlac Nguyen filed the motion Thursday in Quebec Superior Court on behalf of seven Canadians and two natives of the Czech Republic. The ninth plaintiff is a brother and roommate of a passenger.
Eight of the individuals named in the suit were on the same flight as Andrew Speaker, a 31-year-old Atlanta attorney who was in Europe when he learned tests showed he had not just TB, but an extremely drug-resistant strain known as XDR.
Despite warnings from health officials not to board another long flight, Speaker took the Czech Airlines flight to Montreal as part of his return trip home. He subsequently became the first American quarantined by the federal government since 1963, and is currently undergoing treatment under isolation in a Denver hospital.
Health officials now say Speaker's strain of TB is not as resistant to as many drugs as originally thought but it is still more serious than regular strains of the disease.
"They do not have tuberculosis, but nobody can say that they won't have tuberculosis either," Nguyen said of his clients. "And that will not be known, not now, not next year, but for many years in the future, so the pain and suffering that the people have gone through are real. They continue to suffer now because of the uncertainty."
Nassim Tabri sat one row in front of Speaker. Tabri, a 26-year-old Montreal graduate student, found out about his possible exposure when a reporter called him after news of the incident broke last month.
He is seeking a total of $134,900 — the highest amount sought among the nine plaintiffs, mostly for pain and suffering, and "loss of opportunities."
"At the very first moment that I found out I was obviously very stressed, very shocked," said Tabri, who slept throughout most of the flight. "I'm still very stressed out about it. He deliberately got on this plane, endangered our lives and this is very selfish and reckless behavior that deserves to be punished."
Nguyen said that one of the plaintiffs tested positive for tuberculosis in an initial skin test, though he said it was unclear if the 72-year-old man had an active case of the disease, or whether it was related to possible contact with Speaker.
Health experts caution that TB skin tests can yield false-positive results and that further tests are required.
The man now lives in a separate room from his wife according to the statement of claim.
Public Health Agency of Canada spokesman Alain Desroches said "at this point there is no evidence that any one on the flight contracted TB from Andrew Speaker."
Tabri said that he had a negative test for tuberculosis, which he explained determined only that he had not been exposed to the disease prior to his contact with Speaker. Tabri said that he anxiously awaits results of further tests within a month.
"His life has gone through the greatest turmoil," Nguyen said. "He has had to change all his academic plans."
Nguyen said that, to his knowledge, the case is the first to be filed against Speaker. He expects Speaker will be served by a bailiff within the next five to 10 days.
Tabri's twin brother Rami, his roommate, is the only plaintiff who was not on the flight.
"We will admit we are testing the water with that case," said Nguyen, who is claiming $28,500 on behalf of Rami Tabri, the lowest amount among the nine plaintiffs.
Nguyen, who made it clear that it is not a class-action suit, believes that more passengers on the flight may bring action against Speaker.
"Although I have the names of all of the 29 people at risk, we decided right at the beginning that we would not contact anybody out of respect for their privacy," Nguyen said. "We waited for them to call."
Health officials say tests so far indicate Speaker's risk of spreading the infection are low.
Speaker has said he would have gladly gone into isolation if health officials had asked him to. Instead, he said they asked him to swing by a New York City hospital for testing after his European vacation.