Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (7)2 Feb 99
Quick Summary: A worker was stuck in the hand by a needle while removing bags of trash from a medical clinic. He reported it to the clinic right away and was told to go to the emergency room.
Although he took the needle with him to the emergency room, it was apparently discarded by a nurse after she ascertained that it contained insufficient material to test for HIV.
The worker was told to proceed as though he had been infected with HIV. He was tested for HIV, and, among other things, was prescribed a six to eight week course of AZT.
After he began taking the AZT he experienced serious side effects including dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, chest pains and palpitations, which caused him to seek further medical advice and ultimately to cease taking the AZT. He continued to have chest pain. It was discovered he had a hiatal hernia and an esophageal ulcer, which the court believed may have been caused or exacerbated either by the AZT or by the stress of fearing he may have had HIV.
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, ruled the facility had violated a state law requiring the disposal of used sharps in secure, puncture-resistant containers. It followed from that that the worker had the right to sue the clinic for the physical complications of his AZT therapy and the physical manifestations of his stress reaction.
However, according to the court, as there was no proof of actual exposure to the HIV virus, only speculation that he might have been exposed, the worker could not sue for purely subjective emotional distress for fear of having been exposed to HIV. McLarney v. Community Health Plan, 680 N.Y.S.2d 281 (N.Y. App., 1998).