Policy & Politics
Connecticut Supreme Court Rules HIV Occupational Hazard for Prison Guards
May 4, 2004
The Connecticut Supreme Court on Monday ruled 5-2 that HIV is an occupational hazard for prison guards who serve in emergency response units, a decision that will allow guards who contract the virus on the job to seek workers' compensation, the Hartford Courant reports. The case stemmed from a workers' compensation claim filed by the widow of an unnamed guard at the Bridgeport Correctional Center. The guard frequently was exposed to inmates' blood when he broke up fights and responded to medical emergencies. He tested HIV-positive in 1992 and died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1993. The state workers' compensation commission denied the widow's claim that her husband's death was the result of an occupational hazard, and she appealed (Tuohy, Hartford Courant, 5/4). In the ruling, the court stressed the high HIV prevalence in prison populations as representing a "unique and hazardous job environment," according to the AP/Long Island Newsday. Justice Flemming Norcott wrote, "Breaking up altercations and riots in an inmate population with an HIV infection level of one in 20 -- more than 70 times greater than the infection rate of the nonincarcerated population -- is peculiar to the decedent's occupation" (Apuzzo, AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/3). In a dissenting opinion, Justice Christine Vertefeuille wrote that there is "no evidence" that prison guards are at increased risk of HIV infection because of their duties, according to the Courant. Vertefeuille wrote, "I believe that the majority unduly discounts the highly probative fact that the only work-related HIV infection in the correction department involved a health care provider infected by a needle stick." The minority noted that there is "minimal" chance for infection during "splash incident[s]" in which blood or bodily fluid comes in contact with skin or mucous membranes, according to the Courant.
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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.