Stuck By a Needle

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Q: At the hospital, we were bathing a critically-ill patient suffering from AIDS.  As I was turning him, a hypodermic needle (left in his bed by an intern) stuck me in the thumb.  For two months, I was treated with antiviral medications for potential HIV exposure, suffering side effects that continued for several months thereafter including nausea and neuropathy in my hands and feet.  For a period of two years following my exposure, my blood was tested every three months.  I expect permanently to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, including sleep disturbances and flash backs.

The hospital is saying that I should not recover emotional-distress damages beyond the six-month mark because a person exposed to HIV who has tested negative at that juncture is unlikely to become infected – and it was therefore unreasonable for me to continue to fear infection.

I have undergone psychiatric therapy and taken antidepressant medications to alleviate my emotional injuries.  Despite these efforts, my symptoms persist.  My fear is so great that I have left the nursing profession for teaching – at one point even considering stooping so low as to become a lawyer.

A: The hospital’s breach of its duty of care to you, resulting directly in emotional harm, is compensable even though no physical injury occurred – so long as your mental injury is a direct result of the breach.

As for limiting your damages to the first six months, there is no precedent for such a bright-line restriction, in our common-law tort jurisprudence.  Even if the jury issues an excessive, idiosyncratic damages award, then the court can simply exercise its power to set aside a judgment that deviates materially from reasonable compensation.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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