Appeals court denies spouse's claim to worker's benefits for contracting HIV

August 12, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

A lawsuit by a woman who contracted the virus that causes AIDS from her husband, who worked with the virus in a Maryland laboratory, ended yesterday when the state's highest court refused to revive her claim against his employer.

The Maryland Court of Appeals said that the company had no legal obligation to the wife of its former worker.

The opinion effectively closed the door on the claim by "Jane Doe" against Pharmacia & Upjohn, now part of Pfizer Inc. U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Greenbelt had previously dismissed the case, but that ruling was appealed last year to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The woman's husband worked at the company's lab in Montgomery County, which closed in 1991, and unknowingly contracted the HIV virus there and passed it on to her. The former lab technician receives worker's compensation benefits, but his wife cannot.

In a unanimous decision, the state court rejected the idea that the company's responsibility extended to spouses or other partners of its workers. It said that holding a company liable for what happens to sexual partners of its employees - people with whom it has no direct ties - threatens to create a potentially huge number of plaintiffs.

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