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Law Firm Opens Ebola Task Force Amid Liability Fears Over Disease

Updated on October 23, 2014

Lawsuit and Business Interruption Concern Arises

The law firm of Reed Smith this week opened its "Ebola task force" to help clients manage liability risks from the spread of the deadly disease.

The firm operates internationally with 1,800 attorneys, some of them in countries that are preparing contingency plans if the Ebola epidemic enters their borders.

“The virus has the potential to affect international commerce and trade, not just on the African continent but worldwide,” said Sandy Thomas, Reed Smith’s global managing partner, in a statement.

Typically, callers to the firm asking about Ebola liability risks come from hospitals and commercial airlines.

The 20 attorneys in Reed Smith's task force have backgrounds in health care, aviation, employment, government contracting and insurance law. Four of them operate out of the firm's Washington, D.C., office.

So far, questions confronted by the task force include limits on travel restrictions by employers, liability of airlines for unknowingly carrying someone with Ebola, security protocols against disease that airports can enforce and duties of employers to test employees for illness.

Frontier Airlines, which carried Ebola-infected nurse Amber Joy Vinson on Oct. 13, put six crew members on paid leave until mid-November. Chief Executive David Siegel explained in a letter to employees the airline was acting “out of an abundance of caution.”

Reed Smith also represents pharmaceutical companies that are trying to develop an Ebola vaccine. Thirty-five members of the firm already were assigned to its Africa Business Team to represent corporations and investors.

Alarm about the disease rose again this week when a doctor in New York City was rushed to a hospital with symptoms of Ebola after he returned from treating sick patients in West Africa.

The trade group Americans for Insurance Reform released a statement warning insurers to prepare for claims if Ebola spreads further. “Claims may arise via healthcare coverage, life insurance payouts, workers’ compensation, travel insurance and contingent business interruption,” the press release said.

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Ebola sickened 9,000 people by mid-October and killed about 4,500, according to the World Health Organization.
Ebola sickened 9,000 people by mid-October and killed about 4,500, according to the World Health Organization. | Source

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