X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The case of a Bridgeport Correctional Facility officer, who died of AIDS 10 years ago, was argued before the state Supreme Court Sept. 25, in a case pitting images of violence and gore against cold statistics. The five justices wrestled with the question of whether AIDS should be classified an occupational illness, as asbestosis is for asbestos workers and Hepatitis B is for dental technicians. “John Doe,” who died in March 1993, leaving a widow and two children in Shelton, was given martial arts training for hand-to-hand combat with prisoners, and was on a special force of guards assigned to respond to outbursts and riots. He also tended to prisoners who suffered bloody injuries, according to testimony in his workers’ compensation hearings. Doe testified from beyond the grave through video depositions, contending that 25 percent of the inmates he supervised were intravenous drug users. Medical experts said that, while the incidence of HIV in the general population is 1 in 1500, the ratio among prison inmates is just 1 in 20. BLOOD WORK But in 1992, when John Doe was first diagnosed as HIV-positive, the state Department of Correction said he had not filed one specific accident report pinpointing any specific time when he might have contracted the disease. In his court pleadings, Doe argued that he sustained frequent injuries from violent episodes at work, which left him with torn clothes, cuts, and occasionally bloodied uniforms. In May 2001, a workers’ comp hearing officer, George Waldron, ruled that “HIV infection is not peculiar to the occupation of corrections officers and is not due to the causes in excess of the ordinary hazards of employment.” Hence, the three-year filing period to make a claim for an occupational disease did not apply, Waldron ruled. Doe’s lawyer, Michael Stratton, then of Bridgeport’s Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, moved to correct the decision, alleging correction department officials had destroyed incident reports from Doe, and that he had, in late 1986, broken up a fight between “his captain and an inmate who was a known male prostitute. John had the inmate’s blood all over him, including his mucous membranes and skin.” Stratton’s motion to correct was dismissed. In Doe’s appellate brief, Joel Faxon, Stratton’s partner at Stratton Faxon in Stamford, contended that Doe and other guards were routinely subject to inmates throwing urine and feces through the bars, and protected themselves with blankets when walking into cell blocks. If Faxon could convince the justices that Doe died of an occupational disease, Doe’s widow and two children could benefit from substantial workers’ comp benefits for Doe’s job-related death. In oral arguments, Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille hit Faxon with a tough statistic. Isn’t it true, she asked, that there is only one documented case in the entire country of a corrections officer contracting HIV on the job? Faxon replied that the focus of the law isn’t on the specific number of victims, but on the exposure to risk that they face. He also pointed out that, since the 1980s when Doe probably contracted the disease, better training, more protective clothing and procedures, and “prophylactic drugs” have become available that have changed the risk level. Justice David M. Borden asked Faxon whether statistics were a key factor in making Hepatitis B an occupational disease for dental technicians. Faxon said the risk factors of sharp implements and presence of blood were the elements that led to occupational disease status. NEEDLE SURVIVORS Assistant Attorney General Lisa Guttenberg Weiss, arguing for the correction department, clearly surprised some justices when she said needle-sticking exposure of hospital workers is not rare. But only three-tenths of 1 percent of the incidents results in HIV infection even “for needles full of infected blood,” she said. Medical witnesses for the Department of Correction testified that “blood splash” incidents were even less likely to result in disease transmission — nine times out of 10,000 incidents. Weiss noted that none of the high-risk activities for HIV transmission — IV-needle use, unprotected sex, or the nursing of infants — was a requirement of John Doe’s job. Borden asked Weiss, who was arguing to the high court for the first time, whether she would consider HIV an occupational disease for any line of work. Weiss said the one exception might be in Nevada, where prostitution is legal. If HIV is listed as an occupational disease for prison workers, Weiss argued, “it would essentially turn the workers’ compensation system into a welfare-benefit program,” in which anyone who died of AIDS would be entitled to substantial death benefits, without evidence of how the infection arose. Sullivan asked whether job applicants could be tested for HIV as a condition of employment. Weiss responded that would violate privacy laws. “Then the legislature needs to change the law,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think they can,” Weiss replied, noting that HIV-privacy provisions currently pervade federal statutes.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.