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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Utah Lawmaker Intros Death By Firing Squad Legislation as Backup; Number of Hospitals Involved in V.A. Wait List Scandal Grows; Third Person in U.S. With MERS; Shipwreck Survivor Tells Her Story

Aired May 19, 2014 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: No, I'm with you, 100 percent. That's why I brought up the guillotine.

Thank you, sir. It's good to see you. I appreciate your perspective, and I'd like to see you again.

PAUL RAY (R), UTAH STATE HOUSE: Thank you. Will do.

BANFIELD: In the wake of major scandal -- oh, by the way, Jeffrey Toobin, as always, I love your perspective. You'll be back as well.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Indeed.

BANFIELD: You have to be.

TOOBIN: I work here.

BANFIELD: You work here.

So the veteran scandal, it just keeps evolving, Veterans Affairs playing down the number of people who may have died while waiting for care. But one of the key whistle blowers is right now standing by his story. We've got the latest on the back and forth, coming up next.

And then there's this, a professional surfer in trouble with the law after she allegedly tried to run over a 73-year-old woman with her car, and that's only the start of the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: The retired Veterans Affairs doctor who says 40 people died while waiting for treatment is standing by his claims today, despite an internal report from the V.A. that downplays the number of people who may have actually died while waiting for care.

The claims come in the wake of Congress' questioning of embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week about the chronically long wait times across many of the V.A.'s healthcare facilities.

In the meantime, the political fallout is turning into a headache for the White House. You may remember that, back in 2007, President Obama made a campaign pledge that our veterans would not be denied care under his watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we fail to keep faith with our veterans, the bond between our nation and our nation's heroes becomes frayed. When a veteran is denied care, we're all dishonored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin broke this story and has been tracking the fallout for the administration and the veterans caught in the middle. He joins me now, alongside CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins.

First to you, Drew, what is the latest development in this ever- evolving story of problems?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Quite frankly, we're getting more whistle-blowers coming forward than we can check out at the time.

They're coming from all other the country. We have either whistle- blowers coming forward or inspector general investigators now in 10 different states across the country looking into very similar allegations, as what we have in Phoenix, that there are hidden lists, that there are wait times where the numbers are being fudged and where this delayed-care issue has led to either deaths or adverse medical outcomes, as the V.A. likes to call them.

So the wait list scandal itself is growing in scope.

And now you have this political somewhat-scandal growing that the president certainly knew about it, the "Washington Times" reporting that the Obama administration was actually briefed about this issue in 2008 during the transition and only now is addressing the situation.

BANFIELD: Just quickly, Drew, for those who may have missed your last reports where you have laid out this case so meticulously, I believe we were at two hospitals that were drawing the ire of whistle-blowers, and now we're at a third hospital. Is that correct?

GRIFFIN: There was a new hospital being reported out in Albuquerque, but if I remember correctly, we're up to six or seven different hospitals.

BANFIELD: Oh, dear.

GRIFFIN: Yes, and I've talked personally to three whistle-blowers who are actually in charge of the filing of the appointments, who are telling us, telling CNN, that they were told to fudge the numbers, try to hide the fact that these veterans have been waiting and waiting and waiting months and months and months for care.

BANFIELD: It's hard not to think with that many hospitals this isn't systematic in some way. Mel, if there's someone watching right now who feels I've got to call Drew Griffin, what's in store for a whistle-blower? What happens to a whistle-blower?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, this is a really interesting legal case, and hats off to Drew who's been all over this story for six months.

And, frankly, this is a bomb that is starting to explode across the nation, Ashleigh, because not only are you talking about deaths, but you're talking about cover-ups. So there is protection for whistle blowers, but I want to explain something about the legal complexity.

Typically, you are not allowed to sue the federal government because of sovereign immunity. But in the '40s, they passed the Federal Tort Claims Act which allows you to sue the Veterans Administration if you can prove that a federal employee, while working under the duties of their job, either omitted or intentionally or negligently did something that caused you injury or that caused you death.

Now, to put this in perspective, the largest settlement against the V.A., or, excuse me, not settlement, but claim against the V.A., was awarded in 2007 for $17.5 million for a guy, Ashleigh, who had a bunch of teeth removed and ended up being incapacitated for the rest of his life.

Just to put this in perspective, when you start to think about intentional cover-up of people being denied care in a timely fashion, this could be hundreds of lawsuits.

BANFIELD: All right. So listen, I have often heard of the kinds of the cases when it companies to mounting something against the federal government as being Herculean. Many times you have to prove there's something malicious involved, as well, meaning the person wasn't just inept and dumb and, thus, caused the injury to you. They meant to do it and they were mean about it. Do they -- would that have to be --

ROBBINS: Not in this case, no. They could just omit doing something. And they look at state laws.

So they're going to look at the law in the state of Arizona about whether or not there was a standard of care and they were negligent in handling these wait lists the way that they handled them, and also looking at the fact they then buried the evidence.

I think that this is going to be a story that just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And it's a major problem for the president, if you ask me.

BANFIELD: It's a good thing we have Drew Griffin on it. You've been doing some great work, Drew. We look forward to your additional reports.

And, Mel Robbins, thank you, as well, for the legal perspective on that. We've got a potentially deadly disease that has the medical world on edge right now. And when I say the medical world, I mean, here in the United States, as well. What we know about the latest case of MERS in the United States and what U.S. health officials are worried about, that's coming next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: We have new developments in the spread of the potentially deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, the MERS virus. We've just learned that a patient in Florida has now recovered and actually has been released from the hospital.

But this comes just days after health officials said there's now a third person, a third person who's tested positive for this virus, and this third person, it just so happens it's the first time the disease has been transmitted inside the United States. Every other transmission has come from outside the borders.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen explains how it spread.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Reporter: The first two cases in the United States were people who got infected in Saudi Arabia and then got on a plane and came here. Those cases were reported in Indiana and Florida.

Now health officials say an Illinois man who had a business meeting with the Indiana patient has also tested positive for MERS.

LAMAR HASBROUCK, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: This potential person that is making the third case that was transmitted had just basically business transaction with this individual, so no unique travel history of their own and then no travel history since.

COHEN: The CDC says, during a meeting on April 25th, the two men were sitting within six feet of each other talking. The only physical contact they had was shake hands. The next day, they had another meeting, this one, shorter. This was a week before the Indiana patient was confirmed to have MERS.

A CDC doctor says the Illinois man was never really sick, but now the CDC wants to test people he came in contact with, because even without symptoms, it's possible he could have spread the deadly MERS virus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And Elizabeth Cohen joins me live now from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Elizabeth, that's a big worry to hear that someone had a handshake and a 40-minute meeting with someone and then contacted this because, up till now, we've been told it's really quite difficult to spread this disease. Are they now rethinking this? COHEN: Right. Well, you know, the way that they put it is, is that, you know, it's hard to define prolonged and close contact is the way that the experts are talking about it. So before they were making it sound like, hey, you really kind of -- it's most likely if you live with someone. It's most likely if you're a doctor and have prolonged contact with a patient. But certainly when it comes to this, that it was, you know, caught in the course of two business meetings and shaking of hands, definitely makes you think, wow, this seems to be easier to get than what they were saying before.

But, Ashleigh, if we can look a little bit on a silver lining here, this Illinois man did not get sick. And so MERS may be more easily spreadable than some people have been thinking, but it may also be less deadly perhaps than we've been thinking. That mortality rate may be lower than what we previously thought.

BANFIELD: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, keep an eye on it for us, if you would. Thank you for that. Our senior medical correspondent live for us in Atlanta.

A surfer is behind bars right now accused of trying to run over a woman with her car. This is not your typical mug shot. Maybe just because she looks like a surfer. But police say this young woman, Jill Hanson (ph), followed a 73-year-old woman to her condo in Hawaii last week and then ran her down with her car. Police say, according to witnesses, Hanson then tried to back up and hit the woman again. Hanson is now facing charges of attempted murder and police say they do not yet have a motive in this story.

You remember the fatal wreck of the cruise ship the Costa Concordia off (ph) of Italy where 32 people died in that wreck? It was a beautiful scene, yet that ended up being its reality, on its side, over after hitting rocks. The captain took off, left the ship on a lifeboat, and now he's on trial for manslaughter and abandoning ship. And a survivor who had to swim for her life is telling her story. She can't believe no one has bothered to ask her one single question about what it was like to be on that ship and escape with her life. We're going to talk to her, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: She and her husband were on the trip of their lives. A cruise in January of 2012 to celebrate the 60th birthday of Andrea Davis' husband. These photos capture the moments before and after the Costa Concordia ship crashed into rocks off of a Tucson island. The Davises were just two of more than 4,000 people on board that ship. But the Davises do not happen to be one of the 25 passengers who are testifying against Francesco Schettino, the captain of that doomed ship. Now, he's the one that you can see in this picture in the white jacket at the front. That's him holding the microphone on the ship right before the accident.

He's on trial now for manslaughter and for abandoning ship and for causing the crash. But Andrea Davis is instead joining us from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with her take on television and not in a court of law. She's also written a book about her experience and her subsequent struggle with post dramatic distress disorder. It's titled, "Survival was Only the Beginning." And also with us is Mel Robbins, CNN commentator and legal analyst.

Andrea, I want to begin with you. Why is it that no one, not police, not anyone from the shipping industry, not anyone from the company ever reached out to you to ask you about your experiences on board that day?

ANDREA DAVIS, COSTA CONCORDIA PASSENGER: I wish that I could answer the question. I have no answers. In fact, it was brought to our attention sometime back that we should not, in fact, have left Italy without making a police statement, which was really interesting. So my question is, where because we were treated as a group that we didn't each have to report our own circumstances? I've never been able to get a conclusive (INAUDIBLE) question.

BANFIELD: Could - well, let me give it to you now. Let me give you the option right now on national television to at least state your case. What would you tell the court if you had a chance to, you know, take to the docket and say what you know and say what you saw?

DAVIS: We had a horrific experience. And part of the frustration for me is that Lawrence and myself had been treated just like any other passenger at the time of the accident. We've never been given the opportunity to report our circumstance of events during the time of the accident and immediately following the accident. Lawrence and I could not get on to lifeboats as the majority of passengers did. It took hours before there was any instruction.

We, in fact, did attend the lifeboat -- because we had boarded the ship four days, five days before the accident, whereas the majority of the passengers only boarded the ship on the afternoon of the accident. But the life (ph) cruise was unlike any other cruise that we've ever done. We did not have the information that we need. And after the accident, there was no chance for us to get a life jacket. Lawrence said to me immediately after, I'm going up to our cabin to get our life jackets. And I said to him at that moment, don't leave me.

BANFIELD: There's no time.

DAVIS: Don't go.

BANFIELD: Yes.

DAVIS: And in retrospect, that was our best decision, because --

BANFIELD: Andrea - and I want you to tell me, just quickly, if you would, you dived off the ship. You didn't get a lifeboat. You dived. You and your husband dived into the water. You swam to shore in the blackness. And you were injured. Your feet were cut. Your husband's feet were cut from either the sharp rocks or the coral, et cetera.

DAVIS: Yes.

BANFIELD: I mean you had a traumatic experience. DAVIS: Totally traumatic. We, in fact, didn't have to dive off the ship. We were actually going down with the ship. So the water was coming up on to our legs. What, in fact, we had to do was dive away from the ship and escape the falling mess that was falling on top of us. So we knew that we were only free when we'd escaped the distance of the falling ship.

BANFIELD: That's amazing.

DAVIS: Bitterly cold, freezing, middle of the night.

BANFIELD: Yes.

DAVIS: We didn't know where we were. The lifeboats that had gone away to the port were gone (ph) on the opposite side of the ship, so we didn't even know if we were -- what direction we were. We could just see flashing lights in the distance.

BANFIELD: Right, or if any of the rescue boats were going to hit you in the black water as you were swimming for the lights of shore.

Mel Robbins, look, I don't even know where to begin with you in terms of the liability that this - this company faces when it comes to Andrea and Lawrence Davis, however, I do want to ask you this, what on earth is going on over there? When there are - I hate to say only 4,000, --

DAVIS: Yes.

BANFIELD: But only 4,000 people who can tell the story of what happened and they never asked the Davises anything?

DAVIS: This is - this is -

ROBBINS: Well, you know, I think that there's a tremendous amount of confusion, Ashleigh, in every regard. I mean if you think about the criminal case, Italy's going to do things differently than we are and they may feel that they have a slam dunk of a case with just the 20 to 30 witnesses that they've got on deck. Another thing that's interesting to understand is that the U.S. courts, Ashleigh, are still trying to figure out who can actually sue in the United States. You see, people don't want to sue in Italy in a civil case because in Italy they don't allow attorneys to work on contingency, where they get paid based on the settlements that are received. You've got to pay your lawyers up front there.

BANFIELD: Right.

ROBBINS: And they also pay a lot less for pain and suffering damages. So they're still sorting out who can sue.

BANFIELD: Well, sadly I have to cut it here. I have so many other questions, but I'm flat out of time.

Mel Robbins, thank you. And, Andrea, my thoughts go to you and your husband, Lawrence. I know you're still suffering from the effects of that. And thank you for telling your story here today.

Thank you all for being with us through the LEGAL VIEW. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, takes over after a quick break.

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