Published April, 2012

Lee v. G and K Services, Co., No. 2010-CA-01103-COA (Miss. App., Apr. 24, 2012)

This is a decision by the Court of Appeals of Mississippi affirming summary judgment for the plaintiff on her medical expense claim and reversing summary judgment on her emotional distress claim, both regarding the plaintiff's needle-stick injury that did not result in the transmission of disease. This case is important in its delineation of actual and feared exposure to disease, including HIV, stemming from needle-prick injuries.

In March 2008, the plaintiff, Kathy Lee, pricked her finger on a used hypodermic needle located in the pocket of her employee uniform supplied by the defendant, G & K Services. She underwent several months of testing for various diseases, including HIV, and was told in September 2008 that she was not infected as a result of the needle-stick injury. In December 2008, Ms. Lee filed suit against G & K Services, seeking $700 for her medical bills and $10,000 per month for six months of emotional distress due to alleged fear of contracting a disease. Holding that proof of exposure was necessary to recover on a fear of illness claim, the circuit court granted G & K Services its motion for summary judgment on Ms. Lee's medical expense and emotional distress claims. Ms. Lee appealed.

The court of appeals agreed that since Lee's alleged injury was not the actual exposure to disease but rather the fear of exposure to disease, her negligence claim lacked the essential element of injury. Ms. Lee cannot recover on her fear of future illness without presenting substantial evidence that the needle-stick caused actual exposure to, or manifestation of, disease. The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for G & K Services on Ms. Lee's claim of emotional distress based on fear of disease.

However, the court of appeals found that Ms. Lee could potentially recover for her medical expenses on the ground that the needle-stick itself was a physical injury allegedly caused by G & K Services' negligence. It reversed summary judgment for G & K Services and remanded Ms. Lee's claim for $700 in medical expenses incurred in testing her for diseases after the needle-stick.