Lawsuit filed over Yosemite hantavirus incident
The lawsuit, filed in Mariposa Superior Court in January, has since been reassigned to United States District Court in Fresno. The first court date is a May 30 scheduling conference. Judge Sheila K. Oberto is assigned to the case.
According to attorney Mark Algorri, Cathy Carrillo of Chino contracted hantavirus while staying in a doublewalled Curry Village tent cabin in mid-June of last year.
The wife and mother fell ill in early July. She realized she was seriously ill around July 3, when she fainted while visiting the bathroom.
Attorney Carolyn Tan, who also represents Carrillo, said doctors put her client into a medicallyinduced coma from July 6 through 11. With the infection spread through her lungs, a ventilator was needed to help Carrillo breathe. Now 50 years old, the victim is left with diminished lung capacity, low energy, weakness in her left arm and thinning hair, Tan claimed.
Carrillo was treated at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation. The bout with the virus has left her with medical bills that total close to a million dollars, Algorri said.
According to court documents, Carrillo seeks at least $750,000 in special damages and $2,500,000 in general damages.
“It’s a very good case,” attorney Algorri said. “She got it at the tent cabin. Rodent feces were found between the tent walls. It was a situation that (DNC) knew about—so I think liability is pretty clear.”
A search of news stories shows a mixed outcome for previous hantavirus-related litigation.
None of the instances precisely parallel Carrillo’s Yosemite experience, however.
In 2001, a federal judge in New Mexico awarded the family of a Navajo hantavirus victim $2.1 million after a doctor incorrectly diagnosed him with bronchitis and sent him home—where he later died.
A 2007 Utah case that more closely resembles the Yosemite suit did not result in a judgement for the plaintiff. In that case, an appeals court backed up a lower court that found a builder of manufactured homes not liable for a hantavirus infection that killed a woman in 2000.
Carrillo’s case, however, may be strengthened by a 2010 National Park Service and the California Department of Public Health report urging “enhanced” hantavirus precautions in Yosemite and other parks.
The current case could go to a jury trial or could end with a settlement, Algorri said.
“The court will probably order some sort of mediation—so we’ll see,” Algorri told the GAZETTE.
The fact that Carrillo’s claim names concessioner Delaware North and not the Park likely results from a combination of the facts of the case and federal statutes that govern liability, law professor Kyle Graham of Santa Clara University explained.
“I'm guessing that this (decision) is the result of work the attorney has done to find out who was responsible for constructing and maintaining the Curry Village tent cabins,” Graham said.
“In a case like this, you can't prevail against the federal government, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, for responsibilities that were assigned to an independent contractor,” Graham added. “This is known as the independent contractor defense. If the suit alleged that the National Park Service had worked closely with the Park concessioner to design, build and maintain the cabins, you might show that the government is liable too."
Last summer’s Yosemite hantavirus outbreak killed three Yosemite visitors and sickened six more. Most apparently contracted the illness during stays in double-walled Curry Village tent cabins.
All 91 double-walled tent cabins “have been demolished and replaced with single-wall traditional tent cabins that have been part of Curry Village since 1899,” DNC’s Yosemite Web site states.
Delaware North declined any comment for this story, citing pending litigation.
Law professor Graham said it’s impossible to see how the current litigation will shake out.
“I learned a long time ago never to forecast a case,” he said. “I'm sure if you ask Delaware North's attorney, they will say there are two sides to every story."