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Should parents pay when their son spreads AIDS?

 
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 04:20 pm
Mom to Pay $2 Mil. for AIDS Falsehoods

A Cook County jury has ordered a North Shore mom to pay $2 million because she falsely assured her son's fiancee that her son did not have AIDS.

This appears to be the first time a jury has held parents responsible for not disclosing their child's AIDS to the child's sex partner.

Some backers of Illinois' AIDS confidentiality law hope the verdict will be overturned on appeal because they say the mother would have been breaking state law to disclose her son had AIDS.

"This is an outrageous and interesting case," said Ann Hilton Fisher, executive director of the AIDS Legal Counsel of Chicago. "It's legally wrong. It never should have gone to the jury. It would have been a violation of Illinois law for these parents to tell this woman of their son's HIV status."

Legal experts don't expect this case to create a new duty for parents because of the unique circumstances.

The woman said she asked her would-be in-laws whether their son had AIDS and they told her he did not -- even though they knew he did, her attorney said.

"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? No," said Bruce Ottley, a professor at DePaul University College of Law. "Once she asks, they either have to tell the truth or say, 'Sorry, I can't answer that.' "

The woman filed the suit as "Jane Doe." Her fiance, Albert Dilling, died on Nov. 29, 1999, suffering from AIDS. His father, Kirkpatrick Dilling, a well-known Chicago attorney listed in "Who's Who," died last year at the age of 83, three years into the case. The suit against Dilling's mother, Elizabeth, continued.

Doe met Albert Dilling through a lonely hearts column in a newspaper and began dating in 1996.

She asked him before they had sex if he had any sexual diseases and he said "no," she said. As he began to look more sickly, she told his parents, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say this is a guy who looks like he has AIDS," said Doe's attorney, Hall Adams III. "They shouted her down. They said, 'No, he doesn't.' When they took it upon themselves to provide information, they had a duty to provide accurate information."

Only a month before he died, Doe learned her fiance had AIDS. Then she too tested positive for HIV, which has since developed into full-blown AIDS.

"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 you're asked," said Mark Wojcik, a professor at the John Marshall Law School. "Your answer should be, 'You have to ask him that.' "

Illinois AIDS confidentiality law is stricter than in most states, Fisher said. While some states only prohibit medical personnel from disclosing people's HIV status, Illinois' law applies to "any person."

Ex-lovers have successfully sued the estates of people they later learned had AIDS, including a man who dated Rock Hudson before the movie star died. Doctors have been sued for not disclosing someone's HIV status to a spouse. A funeral home was sued, unsuccessfully, for not disclosing a corpse's HIV status to an embalmer. But experts could not recall a case in which an AIDS victim's parents had been sued.

"In New Jersey, a woman had a sexual relationship with a man [who died of AIDS] and brought suit against his adult children, saying they knew he was HIV-infected and never said anything about it. I don't think it will go very far," said David Webber, a Philadelphia attorney specializing in AIDS cases.

The case was first tried in April of last year but the jury deadlocked. It was retried in Cook County Circuit Court last month. The jury gave its verdict Tuesday after four hours' deliberation.

The Dillings' attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday. When the case was first filed, Kirkpatrick Dilling told the Sun-Times, "I don't know how she got AIDS. I think she probably gave my son AIDS, because my son was in great shape."

Fair result? What does everyone think?
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 05:12 pm
Man, what a mess all around. What a tragic thing to happen to Ms. Doe.

I think that the obligation may have taken root (or should have) when Doe asked her fiancé, and then later his parents, whether he had HIV, and was told no when the answer was yes. After all, that wasn't disclosure being prevented in order to protect someone's medical records. At that point, it was getting into deception.

Of course, as she got suspicious, there was one easy remedy, assuming she wasn't already infected - leave the lying SOB. Or, at the very least, stop having sex with him. If she was already infected, then this is no solution, but if she wasn't, and she had her suspicions, well, she's over 18. Shouldn't at least a little of her own personal responsibility factor into this?

I take it that the parents have the deep or at least deeper pockets, and that's the real reason why they were sued. Any info on that?

Interesting q, joe.
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au1929
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 05:57 pm
My question is were the parents legally bound to reveal the sons medical status when asked. If they were than they are guilty and should have been arrested for being accomplices to attempted or actual murder. If not they I should think they are off the hook. What I don't understand is leaving it to a jury to decide the law.
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:22 pm
I don't think they should be legally held responsible for this. It's the kids fault. If she asked them if he had ever been convicted of murder and they said no, even though he had been, would they be responsible if he then murdered her?
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ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:27 pm
There's a reason big red flags start flying in our office whenever the words 'Cook County, Illinois' are whispered about a file. It's a real crap shoot of a jurisdiction, known for crazy jury results.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:36 pm
ehBeth wrote:
There's a reason big red flags start flying in our office whenever the words 'Cook County, Illinois' are whispered about a file. It's a real crap shoot of a jurisdiction, known for crazy jury results.



Razz LMAO Hey now!

But umm.. An odd case to be sure. But I don't see why the mother shouldn't be held liable. The law says she's prohibited from disclosing but she opted to make a disclosure anyway. It doesn't say she can lie if she's asked.
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ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:43 pm
Seriously, fishin. If you get a file in Cook County, it will come with Cook County hi-lited, and with tabs marking all references to it - just in case you might forget.

I've got a whole little section of my work world devoted to the weirdness that is Cook County.
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:43 pm
What I do not understand is why did the judge ever let this go to trial? Presumably he was knowledgable enough in the law to know that for a third party to reveal private medical information in that state was against the law.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:54 pm
Acquiunk wrote:
What I do not understand is why did the judge ever let this go to trial? Presumably he was knowledgable enough in the law to know that for a third party to reveal private medical information in that state was against the law.


But she did disclose. If she had been asked and said "You'll have to ask him" the law should have protected her because she's prohibited from disclosing.

She opted to disclose (in violation of the law) and lied. The lie is what she was sued for.

Think of it this way. The law prohibits me from stealing guns. I steal one anyway and then I use it to shoot you. Should you be prevented from suing me because the law said I'm not allowed to steal the gun? If I'm arrested should the police pretend I didn't shoot you and only charge me with stealing the gun?
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 08:55 pm
ehBeth wrote:
Seriously, fishin. If you get a file in Cook County, it will come with Cook County hi-lited, and with tabs marking all references to it - just in case you might forget.

I've got a whole little section of my work world devoted to the weirdness that is Cook County.


I know. Just kidding. I was born in Cook Co. so I try to stick up for 'em when I can. Razz
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:08 pm
Fishin', I think that logic cut things a bit too fine. Most people when asked about something they are not supposed to reveal simply say no, they deny knowledge. Most people are not lawyers and they do not use the language like lawyers. If the girlfriend or her parents had concerns they should have been taken up with the boyfriend directly, not with a third party. I think there is a disconnect here between how language is used socially and the logic of the court room.
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:08 pm
The disclosure part has nothing to do with it, IMO. The kid having AIDS is like a person having a lethal weapon. If a woman asks your mother if you have a gun in your pocket and you say no, does that mean your mother is responsible for you killing that person? No way. That is ridiculous.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:36 pm
kickycan wrote:
If a woman asks your mother if you have a gun in your pocket and you say no, does that mean your mother is responsible for you killing that person?


The mother would be liable if she knew he had one and planned on pulling it out, pointing it at his date and pulling the trigger.
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:43 pm
But in this case, the "gun" was pulled out willingly by the victim.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:45 pm
Maybe she didn't think it was loaded. *snicker*
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littlek
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:45 pm
This is a really really really disturbing article.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:47 pm
ehBeth wrote:
Seriously, fishin. If you get a file in Cook County, it will come with Cook County hi-lited, and with tabs marking all references to it - just in case you might forget.

I've got a whole little section of my work world devoted to the weirdness that is Cook County.

Hey, wait a minute, I resent . . . no, wait, I think I agree with you.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:56 pm
Acquiunk wrote:
Fishin', I think that logic cut things a bit too fine. Most people when asked about something they are not supposed to reveal simply say no, they deny knowledge. Most people are not lawyers and they do not use the language like lawyers. If the girlfriend or her parents had concerns they should have been taken up with the boyfriend directly, not with a third party. I think there is a disconnect here between how language is used socially and the logic of the court room.


I think this is a good point. Anything but a "no" can be a "yes" in some situations and if she was suspicious why not ask the boyfriend? And if she asked the boyfriend but did not believe him why not demand a test or stop having sex?

This one's interesting alright.
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willow tl
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 09:58 pm
I think Ms. Doe should have been a responsible adult and used protection when having sex...AIDS is not a new disease, and there is plenty of information for those seeking it...she is responsible for her own actions.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 10:01 pm
kickycan wrote:
The disclosure part has nothing to do with it, IMO. The kid having AIDS is like a person having a lethal weapon. If a woman asks your mother if you have a gun in your pocket and you say no, does that mean your mother is responsible for you killing that person? No way. That is ridiculous.

Fishin' is right: if Jane Doe asks Mom "does you son have a gun in his pocket," and Mom knows not only that Son has a gun but that he intends to use it to shoot Doe, her unqualified "no" may induce reliance on Doe's part that would be actionable. In other words, if it is reasonable for Doe to rely on Mom's answer, and Doe does rely on it to her detriment, then Mom is responsible for the damages that Doe suffers as a result of that reliance.

In this particular case, Mom was arguably under a legal duty not to disclose her son's condition (I don't read the Illinois AIDS Confidentiality Act to require this, but I'm not an expert in this area). But, as was pointed out in the story, she was not thereby under an obligation to lie about her son's condition, especially if she knew that Jane Doe would rely on her answer.
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