A jury in Massachusetts has awarded $18.4 million in compensation to a man who accused two of his former physicians of failing to screen him for the HIV virus despite multiple risk factors that should have tipped doctors off to the possibility of his being infected.
Doctors Failed To Conduct HIV Test, Boston Jury Finds
After 8 days of trial in the US District Court of Massachusetts, a panel of jurors concluded that Dr. Stephen E. Southard, the man’s primary care physician, and Dr. Kinan K. Hreib, a neurologist, had been negligent in providing his care. Their negligence, the jury found, caused him irreversible harm; the plaintiff was diagnosed with AIDS in 2010.
“He had a brilliant future in front of him,” attorney David Angueira told reporters at the Boston Globe. “They literally cut the legs out from under him. He lost his job. He lost his career. He lost his life.”
Drs. Hreib and Southard are being held liable to the tune of $18.4 million in damages. A third doctor, Daniel P. McQuillen, was also found to be negligent, but the jury did not feel that his negligence led to the patient’s injuries.
Lahey Hospital, where the man was treated, has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Lawsuit: Physicians Ignored Major Risk Factors
The plaintiff, attorneys argued at trial, is gay and worked in his earlier life as a paramedic, coming into contact on a routine basis with bodily fluids. With these two risk factors in mind, plaintiffs’ counsel alleged, any reasonable doctor should have known that he lived at an increased risk for contracting the virus that is a precursor to AIDS.
Even so, two of the man’s physicians failed to perform an HIV test, the jurors heard, even though the plaintiff had consented to receive such a test in 2007. He was only diagnosed 3 years later, after a third doctor advised him to undergo the test.
By that point, when the HIV test came back positive, the plaintiff’s disease had progressed to AIDS. He suffered brain damage, the Boston Globe reports, effectively ending his career as an attorney.
“Highly Suggestive Of HIV Infection”
None of that needed to happen, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said at trial. In 2007, as the man was receiving treatment for facial paralysis at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, he signed a consent form to undergo testing for HIV. He’d opted for the test because a resident at Lahey told him his symptoms were “highly suggestive of HIV infection.”
Neurologist Dismissed Concerns Of Resident
His neurologist, Dr. Hreib, on the other hand, apparently thought HIV was out of the question. In the plaintiff’s medical records, Hreib wrote that there was “no risk of HIV.” The doctor canceled the HIV test without telling the patient. And, when the man returned to his primary care physician to learn about his test results, Dr. Southard told him that everything had checked out. The man assumed that his HIV test had come back negative, even though, in reality, it had never been performed.
The man’s condition worsened over the next 3 years; his neurological problems continued to progress, eventually leading to cognitive impairment. But it was only after 3 years of waiting that the plaintiff would learn he was infected.
CDC Recommendation Went Unheeded
Sexually active gay and bisexual men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, should be tested for HIV on an annual basis. That’s been considered best practice in the medical profession since at least 2006, 1 year before Dr. Hreib overruled the decision to perform an HIV test for the plaintiff. And the man’s sexual orientation was not a mystery to the doctors of Lahey Hospital. In November 2006, the plaintiff was described as a ” ‘somewhat closeted’ gay man’ ” in his medical records at the center.