June 17, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Local news in brief

Whitman-Walker fights HIV lawsuit

Lawyers for the Whitman-Walker Clinic asked the D.C. Court of Appeals on June 10 to uphold a lower court’s decision dismissing a lawsuit charging the Clinic with falsely diagnosing a client as HIV positive in 2000.

In earlier rulings, a D.C. Superior Court judge and a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals held that a mix-up by a Clinic intake worker and a volunteer doctor led to the misdiagnosis of Terry Hedgepeth.

However, the Superior Court judge dismissed Hedgepeth’s lawsuit charging negligent infliction of emotional distress and the appeals court panel upheld that decision on grounds that D.C. law prevents an award of monetary damages in such cases if no physical injuries are involved.

“The Superior Court granted summary judgment against appellant and dismissed his complaint, concluding that it was bound by our precedent requiring that a claimant be exposed to a ‘zone of physical danger’ in order to claim negligent infliction of emotional distress,” the appeals panel wrote in its October decision.

Hedgepeth’s lawyers appealed the ruling by the three-judge panel to the full Court of Appeals, and the court’s judges heard oral arguments on the case June 10. A decision is expected sometime in the next several months.

His lawyers have argued that the ban on damages for infliction of emotional distress without a physical injury or threat of physical injury is based on a faulty appeals court ruling and the court should reverse itself by overturning the earlier ruling.

The Clinic’s arguments seeking to uphold the lower court decisions could not be immediately determined. Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon released a statement saying only that the Clinic “is committed to providing our patients with accurate and timely diagnosis and treatment.”

The statement adds, “Our health center team works each and every day to ensure that patients receive high quality, affirming care. We look forward to the resolution of this pending matter.”

In addition to Whitman-Walker, Dr. Mary Fanning, who served as a volunteer physician for the Clinic in 2000, is named as a defendant in the case.

The misdiagnosis occurred during the tenure of former Whitman-Walker Executive Director Cornelius Baker and under the Clinic’s then interim director of medical resources, Roxanne Cox-Iyamu, according Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis.

Hedgepeth’s lawsuit says he did not learn that he was HIV negative until five years later, when he was tested again at another D.C. Clinic. It says that during the five years he believed he was HIV positive he became severely depressed, lost his job, and began to have suicidal thoughts. He was twice committed to psychiatric wards in area hospitals, the suit says, leading him to become a “heavy” user of illegal drugs.

Gay marriage opponents seek to overturn law

Same-sex marriage opponents have flooded D.C. neighborhoods with fliers promoting at least four City Council candidates who favor holding a ballot initiative seeking to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage equality law.

Records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has paid Ward 5 ANC Commissioner Robert King more than $60,000 to distribute the fliers.

The flier calls on city residents to vote for Leo Alexander for mayor in the September Democratic primary, noting that Alexander supports a ballot initiative to decide the marriage issue.

It also seeks support for at-large Council candidates Kelvin Robinson and Anthony Motley and promotes Ward 5 Council candidate Delano Hunter. Motley is running as an independent and is considered the major challenger to gay Council member David Catania (I-At Large).

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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