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$20 million settlement after misdiagnosis of HIV

Medical malpractice misdiagnosis cases usually involves the failure to identify or treat a life-threatening illness. In a recent case, a court gave additional rights to patients who are mistakenly told that they had a life threatening illness. This could give more rights to patients impacted by misdiagnosis in Connecticut and nationwide.

The agreement was reached after a D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that medical patients who are given incorrect information from their doctors about a life-threatening illness can seek recourse for emotional distress. This case could pave the way for other patients were mistakenly given a misdiagnosis for a life-threatening illness.

The clinic settled the lawsuit for $20 million with a 52-year-old man who had been mistakenly told he had HIV. The lawsuit was finally reached after a 7-year court battle beginning in 2005. The case was settled one week before it was scheduled to go to trial in D.C. Superior Court. Details of the settlement agreement were not disclosed.

The man sought out testing after his girlfriend told him she had AIDS and that he may be infected. The tests concluded he was negative; however, a doctor who failed to carefully review the tests began counseling him about the virus. Over the course of four years, no further blood tests were administered and the patient continued to believe he was HIV-positive. The diagnosis lead to depression, job loss, use of drugs and alcohol and his entry into a psychiatric ward to treat his thoughts of suicide.

For years the man lived with the virus and even began living in a facility for HIV-positive residents. In 2005, when he sought alternative treatment, he was told that he was not HIV-positive.

According to the plaintiff's lawyers, the patient suffered post-traumatic stress disorder because of the misdiagnosis. The five years he spent thinking that he had HIV caused significant emotional damage. The case is groundbreaking, in that, for the first time, doctors who misread information can be held liable for negligent emotional distress.

Source: Washington Post, "Man misdiagnosed with HIV settles suit against Whitman-Walker Clinic," Keith L. Alexander, August 10, 2012.

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