Johns Hopkins Hospital had no legal obligation to inform patients that one of its surgeons had AIDS, a Hopkins attorney said yesterday in the hospital's first response to a lawsuit filed Monday.
Paul Rosenberg, the hospital's attorney, said that there are no laws requiring hospitals to discover and disclose that doctors or other workers are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome and that there are laws prohibiting HIV testing of anyone, patient or employee, without their informed consent.
The suit, filed by a former patient, claims the hospital knew or should have known that the doctor, Rudolph Almaraz, had AIDS. And Hopkins should have prevented him from operating or told his patients about his illness, according to the suit.
Perry and Dennis Rossi of Severna Park filed the suit Monday in the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Office and the Circuit bTC Court for Baltimore City, asking $32 million in damages from the hospital and the surgeon's estate.
Mrs. Rossi, on whom Dr. Almaraz operated in November 1989, maintains that the doctor and the hospital had a duty to tell her before surgery that he was infected with the fatal illness, which can be transmitted in blood-to-blood contact -- that is, if he had cut himself during the operation and dripped blood into her wound.
The couple claim that they "suffered an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety" on learning from a newspaper account that the doctor died of AIDS one year after removing a benign lump from Mrs. Rossi's breast and that they "live in daily fear of having been exposed to the disease."
Evidence of infection appears in the blood within six to 12 weeks of transmission in most cases, and within six months in more than 95 percent of cases, according to Chuck Fallis, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control.
However, the period between infection with HIV and the appearance of AIDS symptoms is 10 years on average and can extend for up to 15 years, Mr. Fallis said.
On Tuesday, another suit was filed in Circuit Court for Baltimore City by attorney Joel Abramson, representing Sonja Faya of Ellicott City, who had surgery by Dr. Almaraz at the hospital in October 1988 and again in March 1989. That suit asks $100 million from the hospital and $100 million from the surgeon's estate because of the emotional damage arising from fear of getting AIDS.
A claim will also be filed with the Health Claims Arbitration Office, Mr. Abramson said.
Mr. Rosenberg said he had not yet received official notice of the second suit yesterday afternoon.