The facts in this case made national headlines when they occurred in late 2014 during the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak. Although most of the 11 affected individuals had contracted the disease outside of the United States, 2 people contracted EVD in the United States; both were nurses who treated an Ebola patient, and both recovered. This case was originally filed in Texas in 2016, then made its way through the trial court and appeals court until the Texas Supreme Court made its final decision in 2020.
Ms V was a 29-year-old nurse working in the intensive care unit of a Dallas, Texas, hospital in the fall of 2014. One of her patients was a Liberian man who, while visiting his family in Dallas, had become ill with EVD.
Because of the rarity of Ebola in the United States, proper protocols had not been developed or put in place at the hospital. Nurses were told that if personal protective equipment (PPE) left their necks exposed, they should use surgical tape to cover themselves. Despite the best efforts of the healthcare team, the patient died in October. Healthcare workers who had been exposed to the patient were told to self-monitor, but no specific guidance was given.
Two days after the patient’s death, Ms V flew to her hometown in Ohio to shop for a wedding dress with her bridesmaids. While there, Ms V visited a bridal store as part of this trip. Prior to flying to Ohio, the nurse had asked a contact at the Texas Health Department about travel restrictions due to her exposure to EVD; she was told that travel was permitted.
Three days later, Ms V was scheduled to fly back to Dallas when her flight got delayed. While she waited, she checked her temperature numerous times and reported the results to the Texas Health Department. When the rescheduled flight was ready to take off, Ms V’s temperature was 99.5° F. She reported her temperature to her contact at the health department, who spoke to a representative at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As her temperature was below the 100.4° F threshold used by the CDC to define fever, and because Ms V showed no symptoms, she was cleared to fly back to Dallas.
Two days later, Ms V was diagnosed with EVD. Texas health authorities contacted Ohio health authorities, and upon learning of Ms V’s visit to the bridal store, the Ohio health authorities ordered it to temporarily close to prevent the spread of the virus. The store was thoroughly cleaned and reopened for business a month later.
However, the story of Ms V’s visit had made the news, and the fear of catching Ebola caused potential customers to avoid the store. Despite efforts to keep the business going, the owners of the store were eventually forced to close.