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?