Crishila Livacarri helped oversee the first known case of COVID-19 in New York before most of us knew about the disease. She sued her employer in May 2020 after her entire family came down with the virus. New documents filed in court on Wednesday show that the suit has been resolved, although the terms and conditions of the settlement remain unknown.
Her victory could establish a legal precedent for other healthcare providers affected by the pandemic.
Caring for “Patient Zero”
Manhattan Attorney Lawrence Garbuz is considered the first known case of COVID-19. He had just completed a round of trust and real estate negotiations when he came down with a cough. That’s when his doctor told him to go to the emergency room. He later tested positive for COVID-19, and his neighborhood of New Rochelle quickly went on lockdown.
Garbuz, who had no prior health conditions, likely wasn’t the only one with COVID-19 at the time, but he made headlines when he earned the title of “patient zero.” He was discharged in March 2020 after being placed in a medically induced coma and has since recovered.
Looking back on the experience, he said, “I really believe the reason I got this was that I was so concerned with how my clients were doing, I should’ve also been taking better care of myself. I was completely exhausted as a lawyer, and the disease, even though I was otherwise perfectly healthy, found me.”
Crishila Livacarri helped care for Garbuz at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville after he was admitted on February 27th. In the suit, she claims the facility mishandled Garbuz’s care, putting her and her colleagues at risk of infection.
Garbuz was admitted “with an initial intake diagnosis of pneumonia and exhibiting apparent signs of COVID-19 infection,” the lawsuit says, but he didn’t get tested until five days later.
Court papers show that a different nurse said, “I think this patient is COVID’’ — but her concerns were ignored as “alarmist” and “paranoid.”
The suit goes on to say that Livacarri “voiced grave concerns” with her supervisor that Garbuz was “exhibiting obvious signs of COVID-19,” but the nurses were asked to wear surgical masks and face shields instead of N95s.
By the time Garbuz tested positive on March 2nd, Livacarri claims that she had already passed the virus onto her husband, who’s in his 50s, and teenage son.
The suit claims that Livacarri and her family suffered “sustained serious, irreversible injuries as a result of her exposure to COVID-19,” including “decrease or loss of lung function,” mental anguish and other physical and mental injuries.
It goes on to say that the hospital “completely disregarded the signs that Westchester Patient Zero was COVID-19 positive, as well as those warnings provided by hospital staff, including the concerns voiced by a critical care nurse on February 29, 2020 and by plaintiff NURSE ANONYMOUS on March 1, 2020,” referring to Livacarri.
“The intentional and/or wanton disregard for the safety of NURSE ANONYMOUS, and others, was so extreme and outrageous in character as to go beyond all bounds of decency,” the suit adds, while claiming the staff “were offered up as sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered by the COVID-19 virus.”
“Knowingly allowing these dedicated health workers to treat a suspected COVID-19 positive patient without proper PPE equipment shocks the conscience,” Livacarri’s lawyers said in May of 2020.
Overall, the hospital failed to follow CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines “for the treatment of suspected COVID-19 positive patients,” the suit says.
Over a year later, Livacarri’s suit has finally been resolved. The exact figure is unknown, but her lawyers said, “The resolution encompasses a Workers Compensation award and an award in the civil case.”
We could see more settlements like this in the months to come if nurses and providers can prove their employers failed to protect them from the coronavirus.