December 14, 2007
On Wednesday, a Worcester Superior Court jury awarded $2.5 million in damages to a woman who was prescribed AIDS drugs for nine years before learning she never had HIV.
Audrey Serrano's suit against a doctor who treated her said the medications she took led to an array of ailments, including chronic fatigue, depression, loss of weight and appetite, and an intestinal inflammation.
Attorney David Angueira said Dr. Kwan Lai, who treated his client at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester's HIV clinic, did not order definitive tests even after monitoring of Serrano's treatment detected no HIV in her blood. Angueira said the misdiagnosis was "based in part on a presumption that people who engage in certain types of conduct are more likely to have HIV and AIDS than other people without really listening to the patient."
In her testimony, Lai said Serrano told her she had worked as a prostitute; that her boyfriend had tested HIV-positive; and that she had experienced three bouts of a type of pneumonia commonly linked to AIDS. While Serrano confirmed the information about her boyfriend, she denied that she had been a prostitute or told Lai she had had Pneumocystis pneumonia.
At trial, Lai said she had no reason to question Serrano's original diagnosis, made at another clinic, because Serrano convinced her she had HIV when she took her personal history, and her blood showed abnormal amounts of infection-fighting cells.
Serrano filed the lawsuit in 2003 after she became suspicious of the diagnosis and underwent testing at another hospital. With prejudgment interest, Angueira said, total damages could be about $3.7 million.