In Martial Arts (the contact element of same)we are always concerned with the subject of transmission of body fluids and may be a bit curious about what standards the law sets, and what we can do to abide and protect ourselves. We had no standard in Massachusetts relative to a reported case until this one. This is called a case of first impression.
The case is "Cole, et al. v D.J.Quirk, Inc.", and was reported in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly in the July 2, 2001 edition.
A man sued a used car dealer based upon his theory that he should be compensated for his fear of getting AIDS.
Many of you recall our discussions in these forum topics that the courts apply “reasonable” standards sometimes referred to as the “reasonable man theory”, but regardless of nomenclature, and in the most simplistic definition it means “common sense”. The courts cases citing this standard are legion and the courts truly believe that we as jurors, most of whom are lay persons, as a body and individually are capable of making rational decision, and incorporate in their decisions, what is reasonable based upon the facts coupled with an explanation of the relevant law instructed by the judge.
Having that in mind, the facts summarized are as follows:
A man purchased a used car from a dealer who was supposed to thoroughly clean the interior of the car as part of the deal.
When he drove the car home he noticed that the interior was not properly cleaned and proceeded to clean it.
He put his hand in the pocket attached to the rear of the driver’s seat and cut his finger on an implement which he later found out to be a pair of surgical tweezers. The former owner of the car was a medical doctor. The man cleaned the wound while his wife, a registered nurse, called their doctor. The doctor warned of the possibility of contracting AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis B and gave him an inoculation.
Plaintiff’s theory: The man claimed that Massachusetts should follow the “reasonable fear” standard in which he would be allowed to show he had a reasonable fear of contracting AIDS based on a “specific incident of potential exposure” even though he had not tested positive for the HIV virus.
After losing in the Trial Court, the man appealed to the Appellate Division.
The judge writing the opinion for the court ruled that Massachusetts follows the “actual exposure" standard which requires plaintiffs to show that the source was in fact HIV positive and that the virus was potentially transferred by a “scientifically accepted method of transmission”.
The decision went on “The objective standard of causation guards against claims for HIV/AIDS phobia that are ‘trivial, evanescent, temporary, feigned or imagined’ while the subjective standard does not”
I know that a lot of the readers of this forum are greatly concerned with the preemption of the right of jurors to decide because of action by the courts.
Well in this case, the Trial Court judge directed a verdict in favor of the defendants, and this was appealed. Plaintiff’s attorney felt that there were issues raised in the pleadings beyond apprehension or fear and there had also been counts for breach of contract. Counsel stated that the case might be appealed.
The court in this case adopted the “majority rule”, there being no reported cases in Massachusetts.
The man claimed that he suffered from diarrhea, nausea and vomiting from his fears.
His wife filed a claim for loss of consortium, which claim was based mainly on the fact that the couple did not have sexual intercourse for over a year and thereafter only with a condom.
The court ruled that her claim went down with the ruling that there was no cause of action by her husband.
The bottom line is that the court did not ruled that the “reasonable fear” theory was dead; only that the above objective standard must be met by a plaintiff.
Can you as MA’s relate this case to what you may be thinking and on a recent popular forum topic on blood transmission.
Can you think how this may apply to MA activities?
Is this “standard” (the 'objective standard')adopted by the court in a case of first impression in Massachusetts, valuable as a guide to MA’s who officiate, promote or participate in such activities as sparring, NHB competition and the like, in so far as it relates to a warning of the second test in the standard, which is “scientifically accepted method of transmission”.?
IMHO, I believe that we remember this case and provide at least a mental defense on what to do now that we know that the court has imposed a standard, which if followed, may protect against trivial claims.
My belief is that there is relevant knowledge provided by this case and steps to be taken to provide medical and protective equipment to minimize fear based suits based upon unfounded fear, which could arise out of Martial Arts activities.
"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"