in 2005, terry hedgepeth sued whitman-walker clinic in washington, d.c. because it mistakenly told him five years earlier he was hiv-positive. a seven year court battle ended this week when the clinic quietly settled for $20 million. on tuesday, just a week before the case was scheduled for trial in d.c. superior court, an agreement was reached. details of the settlement were not disclosed.
"we are happy to settle the case amicably," said don blanchon, whitman-walker's chief executive. he would not comment further on the case. hedgepeth's attorney, johnathan c. dailey, said "the case was resolved amicably" & also declined to further discuss the agreement. but dailey added the agreement came a year after the d.c. court of appeals unanimously ruled (in the case) medical patients who are given incorrect information from their doctors about a life-threatening illness can seek legal recourse for emotional distress.
said dailey, "we changed 25 years of law. now if a doctor misreads information, a patient can sue for negligent emotional distress." dailey said his client, now 59 years old, married & living in the maryland suburbs, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the misdiagnosis. "the effects of those five years have not worn off completely," dailey said.
according to court records & interviews with dailey, hedgepeth went to whitman-walker after his then, girlfriend, with whom he'd been sexually active, told him she has aids & feared she'd infected him. a clinic employee mistakenly wrote in hedgepeth's files he'd taken two tests at the clinic & one of them was positive. later, a clinic doctor failed to carefully review his chart & began counseling him about the virus.
during the next four years no further blood tests were done; hedgepeth continued to believe he was hiv-positive. as such, he became depressed, according to the court records, quit his job as a caterer, began using alcohol & other drugs, while twice committed to psychiatric wards because of recurring suicidal thoughts.
hedgepeth was monitored at whitman-walker but never medically treated for the virus. the clinic also arranged for him to live in a facility with hiv-positive people. in june 2005, he sought alternative treatment from the abundant life clinic in southeast washington. the clinic conducted a routine blood test & discovered he was not hiv-positive. a month later, hedgepeth was referred to johns hopkins bayview medical center to take a follow-up test which confirmed his hiv-negative status.
in august 2005, hedgepeth sued whitman-walker for medical negligence. one year later, d.c. superior court judge robert e. morin dismissed the case. in 2009, three judges on the d.c. court of appeals agreed with morin's decision, saying hedgepeth was not physically harmed by the misdiagnosis, noting he'd not been prescribed hiv medication which caused any side effects.
hedgepeth & his attorney petitioned for all 10 of the d.c. appellate judges to review the case in 2009. last year, the judges reversed the lower court's decision, finding the case should move forward because serious emotional distress could result from a doctor's negligence. the ruling finally gave hedgepeth a chance to be heard by a jury. on tuesday, as both sides were preparing for trial, they resolved the provocative case.
although dailey believes the appellate judges' decision gives people misdiagnosed with deadly diseases grounds for such lawsuits, his victory is not universally accepted. catherine hanssens, executive director of the center for hiv law & policy in new york, said courts & juries realize doctors make mistakes. "many people who find out they are not hiv-positive view it as good news - they don't run out & get a lawyer...doctors are not infallible & patients have to realize doctors don't & should not have the last say in their health.," said hanssens.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.