This is a New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division decision affirming the trial court's decision to hold a fact-finding hearing on whether there was a compelling need to release the confidential medical information of an HIV-positive patient in a slip-and-fall negligence lawsuit pursuant to Public Health Law § 2785. This law governs procedures around the release of HIV-related medical information and seeks to provide stricter control over the misuse of confidential medical information.
During discovery, the defendants inadvertently learned that the plaintiff was HIV-positive and subsequently requested additional information about his status in an effort to better estimate possible monetary damages. The plaintiff then sought to terminate further discovery actions so as to avoid the release of private medical information. The lower court ruled against the plaintiff, holding that a hearing should be held on the issue.
The Appellate Division agreed with the lower court's finding that the plaintiff had put his HIV status at issue by commencing his negligence action and alleging injury and disability. It agreed that ignoring the plaintiff's HIV status would violate the defendant's right to a fair trial because life expectancy is relevant to an award of damages. Since HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral medications and with suppressed viral loads have life expectancies that closely approximate HIV-negative individuals, this decision appears to be inconsistent with the latest medical findings on HIV and life expectancy.