Anthrax death sparks lawsuit

Widow sues hospital after learning doctor who treated husband was unlicensed

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The widow of an anthrax victim has filed a lawsuit against Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton and the estate of a doctor who worked there, seeking monetary compensation.

The plaintiff, Celestine Curseen, is claiming damages for the death of her husband, Joseph Curseen, who inhaled anthrax at the Brentwood Post Office in the District.

Dr. Henry Sabatier, who treated Curseen at the hospital, allegedly committed suicide a few months after Curseen’s death.

The suit alleges that in September 1997, the Maryland Department of Health revoked Sabatier’s license to practice as a physician while the late doctor underwent rehabilitation for substance abuse. Sabatier was then hired by Southern Maryland Hospital after not practicing as a physician between September 1997 and May 2000.

The suit, filed in the Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro, named several other defendants, including other hospital personnel on duty, and Bristol Emergency Medicine, Inc., the parent company of Southern Maryland Hospital.

Attorneys for the defendants could not be reached for comment on the complaint. Curseen’s attorney, Alan Rifkin, also declined to comment.

The suit claimed that Curseen, of Temple Hills, and several of his coworkers became ill after working on a machine at the Brentwood facility that processed contaminated letters. The letters were addressed to former U.S. senator Tom Daschle and several network news anchors. At the Senate Hart office building, Daschle’s letter was received and opened, and the anthrax discovered.

The Hart Senate office building was evacuated and closed until a cleanup could be performed. The Brentwood postal facility was neither evacuated nor cleaned up despite the anthrax exposure there, the lawsuit stated.

Curseen was treated for symptoms at Southern Maryland Hospital and released. He drove himself to the emergency room after fainting during a Saturday evening mass. Curseen returned again to Southern Maryland the following day by ambulance after collapsing at home, the lawsuit stated. He was to have been treated by Sabatier, the emergency room physician on duty, but the lawsuit alleges that Sabatier never saw Curseen, and left the hospital following his shift. Curseen died hours later at the hospital.

What happened to the postal workers at Brentwood was an example of bureaucratic bungling at every level, said Marilyn Thompson, a former editor at the Washington Post and author of ‘‘The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed.”

‘‘I was doing a lot of post-911 stories at the time,” Thompson said, ‘‘and I was fascinated by the anthrax cases. I wanted to see what lessons could be learned. What the victims at Brentwood suffered was a travesty.”

A court hearing is scheduled for mid-October.

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