Passengers Sue TB Patient Andrew Speaker: Valid Lawsuit or Litigious Society Gone Mad?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," July 13, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: 31-year-old Andrew Speaker became an international villain after he flew to and from Europe for his honeymoon after doctors told him he had a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.

Well now nine people have filed a lawsuit against Speaker for potentially exposing them to the deadly disease. Eight of the plaintiffs are fellow passengers. One is the brother of a passenger. The question: Is this a valid lawsuit or just another one of those examples of what a litigious society that we live in? Joining us now from Chicago is criminal defense attorney Steven Greenberg and from Boston, former prosecutor Tom McCain.

All right, Tom, nobody is injured. I mean, everybody says they're traumatized, but no one has any infection. Why is there a case here?

TOM MCKEAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, when you say no one is injured, nobody is sick at this point. But clearly there were some psychological injuries and there was harm done. People had to change their lives. They went through a great deal of fear. There's still some fear. Tuberculosis doesn't hit right away. So I'm not sure that the fact that nobody's sick would prevent any damages right now. The extent of the damages is what is going to be contested, I would think.

KASICH: How about you, Steve? Is it your take, you know, trauma, there's nobody infected yet. I assume you'd have time to sue if, in fact, you were injured over time. What people are saying is, I'm traumatized, therefore I should sue. What's your take?

STEVEN GREENBERG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's absurd. This is no injury, no harm, no foul. This is like me suing the airline before I get on the airplane because I'm afraid that the airplane might crash.

MCKEAN: It's very different than that. That's an absurd analogy. In this situation, you have people who were on an airline, somebody recklessly got on, he didn't know at the time that he got on that he…

GREENBERG: No one got hurt. No one got hurt.

MCKEAN: ...wasn't going to cause a lot of damage.

KASICH: I mean.

GREENBERG: No one got hurt.

KASICH: Here's the issue, Tom. I just had a friend that was in a — you know, got rear-ended in an accident, OK, in his car. So it's not one week that goes by that he's got six or seven plaintiff's attorneys sending him letters saying, do you know you have a right to sue? I mean, we live in a society where people are always looking for that angle too much of the time.

MCKEAN: That may be the case. That may be the case in a lot of situations. But in this situation, you had people — you had the whole country fearful as to what was going on. You have a situation…

GREENBERG: We always have fear. We always have fear of things happening. It doesn't mean we…

MCKEAN: But this fear was directly caused by the irresponsible, the selfish act.

KASICH: There's no question.

GREENBERG: Well, they…

KASICH: But Steve, is this a case of ambulance chasing, really, you know, that they're filing all these cases?

GREENBERG: Not at all.

KASICH: What do you think, Steve?

GREENBERG: This is a case of they can't get anything. Yes, he got on the airplane and everyone thought, after the flight, that maybe there was a situation. Nobody thought it during the flight, but after the flight. And it turned out that wasn't the case. So OK…

KASICH: But they were all contacted.

GREENBERG: .maybe I was going to get hurt.

MCKEAN: A lot of people had to make changes in their lifestyles.

KASICH: Hold on, hold on, one at a time. Hold on, Tom.

GREENBERG: Why don't I sue the airlines because they used to allow smoking on the airplane? And maybe I thought I might get cancer? You can't do it. You need an injury. Your friend who got in an accident, if he hurt himself, he can sue. If he didn't get hurt in the accident, it was just a minor fender bender, then fine, be happy you didn't get hurt.

KASICH: Right.

GREENBERG: Get on with your life.

KASICH: Well, that's, you know, Tom, let me ask you this, Tom. You're angry. I think the guy was a total — I mean, going on a plane with something like this. Now he claims he didn't know, OK. But he says well officials said when you come back, check in with us. But is this a way of really punishing this guy? Is this sort of a backdoor approach to kind of hammering him for what he did by these lawsuits being filed?

MCKEAN: Well, it may partially be that, but I think you're minimizing the effects on the individuals who are the plaintiffs in this case.

KASICH: Tom, would you sue for stress? I mean, I'm serious.

KASICH: Would you go and file a lawsuit because — I'm serious, I'm going to ask you that — if you were stressed out about something, would you sue somebody for that if there was no injury?

MCKEAN: If somebody called me and said that my family had been killed and it was some type of…

KASICH: But that's not the case here. We're talking about a plane.

MCKEAN: No. I'm talking about…

GREENBERG: I'm going to sue my mother-in-law for stress.



MCKEAN: If somebody is saying that a family, you know, is dead, and you take certain actions, and you do certain things as a result of that, it can have an enormous effect.

KASICH: Well, OK, I mean, OK, that's an extreme example. But people now are suing for, you know, I was stressed out because something bothered me, you know, I was in a baseball game and a ball flew past my head, so therefore I'm traumatized.

MCKEAN: Right, but let's not…

KASICH: I think there's too much of that going on.

MCKEAN: ...let's not lump this case in with that.

KASICH: Steve.

MCKEAN: It's not at all the same.

KASICH: All right, Steve, let me ask you this. Is it possible that a jury might look at a case like this and realize how irresponsible that guy is and find for those people who are suing, because what that guy did was flat-out dead wrong?

GREENBERG: But nobody was injured. That's the problem.

KASICH: What are you doing to hold that guy accountable? I think a jury could find that way. You know, if I was sitting on a jury — I'll disqualify myself — if I was sitting on the jury, and this case came for me, I'd find for the plaintiffs. I'd say I want to punish this guy, make a statement.

GREENBERG: Well, hold on. What was wrong with this guy? It turns out that he didn't have any kind of highly contagious TB.


GREENBERG: …and any kind of untreatable…

MCKEAN: He's in isolation right now.

GREENBERG: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. Maybe they should.


GREENBERG: Maybe they should be suing the government for making a mistake and making a federal case.

KASICH: All right, that might be. Guys, it's another airline story. Thank you both very much for being with us.

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