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10th Circuit rejects lawsuit over hantavirus death

The family of a Navajo woman was killed by the hantavirus cannot sue the Indian Health Service for damages, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

Nettie Tsosie sought treatment the Gallup Indian Medical Center, an IHS facility in Gallup, New Mexico. She was misdiagnosed and sent home.

After seeking emergency care at a private facility, Tsosie was sent to another hospital in Albuquerque, where she died of the hantavirus, a rare pulmonary disease.

Tsosie's husband and children sued the federal government, citing negligence at the Gallup center. But because the doctor who treated Tsosie was a contractor and not a federal employee, a federal judge dismissed the case.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit did the same. The court also ruled that the federal government's trust relationship does not change the doctor's status as a contractor.

This is the second hantavirus-related case the 10th Circuit has considered. In October 2002, the court threw out a $2.1 million judgment against the IHS for misdiagnosing a Navajo man who died from the disease. The court said the man's family had to be awarded a much smaller amount of money.

Get the Story:
Tsosie v US (June 28, 2006)

Related Decision:
Haceesa v. United States (October 24, 2002)

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Appeals court limits IHS malpractice award (10/28)
Navajo widow awarded $2.1M (6/13)
Mystery virus still causing deaths (4/23)