$20 million settlement for mistaken diagnosis of HIV

Thursday August 16, 2012

Cases involving misdiagnosis will often arise when a doctor or medical professional fails to identify a life threatening condition. In many of these cases, patients suffer because they do not get proper treatment. A recent case may give patients in New Haven, Connecticut future rights to file a lawsuit against a hospital that gives a mistaken diagnosis about a life threatening illness, such as HIV.

A clinic has quietly agreed to settle a lawsuit for $20 million involving misdiagnosis of HIV after an appeals court ruled that medical patients who are given incorrect information from their doctors about a life-threatening illness can seek medical malpractice personal injury recourse for emotional distress

In 2000, a then 47-year-old man was told mistakenly that he had HIV after his girlfriend informed him she had been diagnosed with AIDS and suspected he was also exposed. He entered a clinic for testing and a doctor, who failed to carefully review his tests, mistakenly told him that he was HIV-positive. 

The male patient went through counseling and treatment; however, at no point was additional blood work was performed. It wasn’t until five years later that he had another blood test and was told that he was in fact HIV-negative.

A lawyer for the plaintiff claimed that his client suffered emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting in depression and the loss of his job. Ultimately, the diagnosis and depression led to his use of drugs, alcohol and a suicide attempt.

Since discovering the error in 2005, the man has been pursuing a legal claim against the clinic. No details of the settlement agreement were released, but the battle came to a close one week before the case was scheduled to go to trial. The case could pave the way for future claims, holding doctors liable for misreading information and causing 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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