Australian Judge Awards Damages to Woman Whose Husband Did Not Reveal HIV-Positive Status
New South Wales, Australia, Supreme Court Judge Jerrold Cripps has awarded a woman approximately $478,670 in damages in a suit that could determine whether doctors have an obligation to breach confidentiality with a patient in order to protect his or her partner from HIV infection, BBC News reports (BBC News, 6/10). The woman, known as PD, sued Drs. Nicholas Harvey and King Weng Chen for negligence and breach of contract for failing to reveal her fiance's HIV status following a joint premarital consultation about sexually transmitted diseases in November 1998. Chen informed PD's fiance, who had recently emigrated from Ghana, that he had both HIV and hepatitis B and advised him not to have unprotected sex and to attend the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's HIV clinic. The fiance told the woman that he was HIV-negative and falsified a test result certificate to back up his statement. PD, who had tested HIV-negative during the premarital consultation, did not find out the true results of her husband's tests until 1999, when she was searching for his immigration papers in his suitcase. She was pregnant at the time, and she later tested positive for hepatitis and HIV. The infant has tested negative for both hepatitis and HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/8). Cripps ruled that the doctors in the case should have warned the woman's fiance that he would be breaking the law if he did not inform his wife-to-be of his HIV-positive status (BBC News, 6/10). Cripps upheld doctor-patient confidentiality, saying that doctors cannot be sued for maintaining the relationship. However, he said that doctors must properly counsel their patients to disclose their status to partners and, if necessary, notify the Director General of Health, who has the power to breach confidentiality and warn someone that they are at risk of infection (Lamont, Sydney Morning Herald, 6/11). David Hirsch, PD's lawyer, said that PD was pleased with the decision but added that "no amount of money is going to replace what she has lost." Australian Medical Association lawyers are examining the decision's legal implications on patient confidentiality, according to BBC News (BBC News, 6/10).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.