Quarantine is the isolation of a person or animal afflicted with a communicable
disease or the prevention of such a person or animal from coming into a
particular area, the purpose being to prevent the spread of disease. The power
of governments to quarantine is an essential aspect of maintaining the public
health, and dates back to 1377, when Venice required Crusader ships to wait
forty days in port after returning from Arabia.
In modern American law, the authority to quarantine is a basic power of a
health authority and a proper exercise of the police power. Federal law even
acknowledges the power to quarantine and provides for the cooperation
between federal and state or local health authorities in implementing
quarantine laws. 42 U.S.C. § 243(a).
The quarantine exception to liability applies to the liability of public health
officers under the tort claims acts. The FTCA states that the federal
government will not be held liable for “[a]ny claim for damages caused by the
imposition or establishment of a quarantine by the United States.” 28 U.S.C.§
2680(f). Federal liability is precluded even if the quarantine is shown to have
been unnecessary and costly. For instance, a federal court held that the
government's withholding of test samples and negligent informing of plaintiff
that diseased livestock was free of hoof and mouth disease was covered by the
quarantine exemption. Saxton v. United States, 456 F.2d 1105, 1106 (8th Cir.
In another case, a USDA doctor imposed quarantine on hogs, and injected them
with hog cholera vaccine after erroneously diagnosing them with hog cholera.
Many died as a result of the hazardous vaccine. The federal appeals court held
that the FTCA quarantine exemption barred any claim against the government
or the doctor. The court also stated that any negligence in procedures, either
through diagnosis or testing, by which the government doctor arrived at the
decision to impose quarantine, would also be barred. Rey v. U.S
., 484 F.2d 45
(5th Cir. 1973).