July 13, 2007 / 7:12 AM / in 10 years

Canadian passengers sue U.S. TB traveler

TORONTO (Reuters) - Passengers who were aboard a flight with a U.S. tuberculosis patient in May launched nine civil lawsuits against him on Thursday, claiming that he knowingly exposed them to the disease.

<p>Andrew Speaker, a 31-year-old attorney, kisses his wife Sarah Cooksey during their wedding ceremony on the Greek island of Santorini May 18, 2007. Passengers who were aboard a flight with the U.S. tuberculosis patient in May launched nine civil lawsuits against him on Thursday, claiming that he knowingly exposed them to the disease. REUTERS/Stringer</p>

Andrew Speaker, an American lawyer, sparked international health alarms after he flew around Europe and to Canada with what was then believed to be a deadly form of tuberculosis, known as XDR TB.

Speaker was recently found not to have had XDR TB but an equally contagious form of the disease, known as MDR, or multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. MDR is easier to treat than XDR, or extensively drug-resistant TB

The suit was launched by seven Canadian passengers and two Czech women who were on the Czech Airlines flight with Speaker from Prague to Montreal, their lawyer, Anlac Nguyen, said.

The suits are worth a total of C$1.37 million ($1.3 million), he said.

“When Mr. Speaker boarded the plane from Prague to go to Montreal, he knew that he was not to fly. He defied that order,” he said.

Nguyen said there could be more lawsuits to come in the next few weeks, as four other people have contacted him.

He said that his clients have been forced to put their lives on hold and have endured financial loss, anxiety and depression.

Passenger Nassim Tabri is suing Speaker for C$140,000.

“His behavior was reckless,” Tabri said. “I want him to be held accountable for what he has done.”

Tabri had originally been sitting near the back of the plane but to accommodate his tall physique, he was moved near the front, one row away from Speaker.

The Montreal student is now awaiting tuberculosis test results, due at the end of the month.

In a June interview with ABC television, Speaker said: “I hope they understand, based on what I was told I didn’t think I was making that gamble.”

“I truly believe there is a misunderstanding of how we entered into all of this,” he said.

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