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HIV Misdiagnosis Nets 2.5 Million Jury Award

Dec 13, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
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An HIV misdiagnosis lawsuit has resulted in a $2.5 million malpractice verdict against a Massachusetts physician.  In her HIV misdiagnosis lawsuit against a doctor who treated her, Audrey Serrano said the powerful combination of drugs she took triggered a string of ailments, including depression, chronic fatigue, loss of weight and appetite, and inflammation of the intestine. Serrano received HIV treatments for almost nine years before discovering she never actually had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  

Serrano, 45, said she cried after hearing the verdict Wednesday in Worcester Superior Court and was gratified that the jury believed her adding that she planned on finishing school and would continue helping others.  Part of her plan included finding another physician to help her with the ailments that have cropped up as a result of the inappropriate medical care she received.

Serrano's attorney, David Angueira, said Dr. Kwan Lai, who treated Serrano at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester's HIV clinic, repeatedly failed to order definitive tests, this even after monitoring of Serrano's treatment never indicated the presence of HIV in her blood.  Angueira described Lai’s treatment of Serrano as one of the clearest cases of misdiagnosis he had ever seen and believes the shoddy care was based, in part, on a presumption that people who engage in certain types of conduct are more likely than others to have HIV and AIDS.

Lai testified last week that Serrano told her she had worked as a prostitute, her partner had AIDS, and she had suffered three bouts of a type of pneumonia typically associated with those infected by the virus—Pneumocystis pneumonia.

Serrano denied she was ever a prostitute. She confirmed her former boyfriend tested positive for HIV/AIDS, but disputed the claim she told the doctor she had suffered bouts of Pneumocystis pneumonia.  Lai testified she had no reason to question Serrano's original diagnosis at another clinic because Serrano had convinced her she had HIV when she took her personal history.  She also stated Serrano’s blood test revealed abnormal amounts of cells used to fight infections.  Lai’s attorney Joannie Gulliford Hoban, argued during the trial that Lai had provided standard care to Serrano.  But Serrano’s attorney stated that his client’s case clearly demonstrates how inadequate that procedure was, referring to the testing that Lai conducted.  The medical center, which was not named in the lawsuit, has denied wrongdoing in the case.

The jury reached its verdict after two days of deliberations, according to Serrano's attorney, adding that damages could total about $3.7 million, including pre-judgment interest.  Serrano filed the lawsuit in 2003 after she became suspicious of her diagnosis and had herself tested at another hospital.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and refers to the most advanced stages of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection.  HIV is a retrovirus leading to AIDS that kills or injures the body's immune system cells and is most commonly spread through unprotected sex with an infected person.  AIDS may also spread by sharing drug needles and women can pass AIDS to their babies during pregnancy or childbirth.

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