Illinois Jury Awards $2M to HIV-Positive Woman Who Sued Fiance’s Parents for Allegedly Lying About Son’s HIV Status
A Cook County, Ill., jury on Tuesday awarded $2 million to an HIV-positive woman who sued the parents of her now-deceased fiance for allegedly lying about their son's HIV status, the Chicago Tribune reports. The woman, known in court documents as "Jane Doe," contracted HIV through unprotected sex with her fiance, Albert Dilling, in August 1996, according to attorney Hall Adams, who is representing Doe. In the suit, Doe alleged that Dilling's parents, Elizabeth Dilling and her late husband Kirkpatrick Dilling, knew that their son was HIV-positive and lied to Doe about his status and the cause of his deteriorating health, according to the Tribune. Albert Dilling died of AIDS-related complications in November 1999. Doe said that her fiance did not tell her that he was HIV-positive and his parents' dishonesty about his status prevented her from learning her own HIV-positive status and seeking antiretroviral treatment for three years, according to the Tribune. According to Adams, Doe asked Dilling's parents why he was "constantly ill," and they responded that he had heavy metal poisoning and later said that he had Lyme disease. The parents, who paid Dilling's medical bills and were in contact with his doctors, said that they did not learn about their son's HIV status until two weeks before his death, according to the Tribune. "We did not know he had AIDS," Elizabeth Dilling said, adding, "Our doctors diagnosed him with heavy-metal poisoning and then in July 1999 he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I never understood why they didn't test him for AIDS." Elizabeth Dilling said that she plans to appeal the jury's verdict.
Reaction, Effect on Future Cases
The three years that Doe did not receive antiretroviral treatment for her HIV infection could be "detrimental to her health," Dr. Frank Palella, an HIV specialist at Northwestern University School of Medicine, said, adding, "A delay of three years could be dire for many patients. Never, ever would you advocate that someone who is HIV infected go unmonitored during that time" (Chicago Tribune, 3/4). Legal experts said that because of the case's "unique circumstances," the verdict will not create a new disclosure duty for parents, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "If it's just a case where your son is dating a girl and you know he has AIDS, do you have a duty to disclose?" Bruce Ottley, a professor at DePaul University College of Law, asked, adding, "No. Once she asks, they either have to tell the truth or say, 'Sorry, I can't answer that.'" Mark Wojcik, a professor at the John Marshall Law School, said, "The lesson that other people should take from this case is not that there is a duty to disclose, but just that you shouldn't lie or cover up when asked," adding, "Your answer should be, 'You have to ask him that'" (Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4). Ann Hilton Fisher, executive director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, said that the case should not have gone to a jury, according to the Tribune. "Illinois has one of the strongest AIDS confidentiality acts in the country, that is why this is so appalling," Fisher said, adding, "If [Dilling's mother had] in fact released her son's HIV status, he would have been able to sue her" (Chicago Tribune, 3/4).