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"Supreme Court: HIV Can Be Prison Work Hazard"
Associated Press (05.04.04)::Matt Apuzzo
CDC HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
On Monday, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the
high rate of HIV infection among prisoners creates a unique and
hazardous job environment for certain prison guards, clearing the
way for them to receive workers' compensation if they become
infected. The ruling allows members of prison emergency response
teams to apply for compensation, provided they prove they
contracted HIV on the job.
The court held that the state must consider a workers'
compensation claim brought by the family of an unidentified
correction officer who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and died a
year later. "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," wrote
Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. State officials had argued that
the HIV-infection rate among correction officers was so low that
it did not warrant special designation as a job hazard.
The court, however, stopped short of extending coverage to
all corrections officers, to the disappointment of Chief Justice
William J. Sullivan. Sullivan sided with the majority but issued
his own opinion calling for all prison guards to qualify for
workers' compensation. "It is wrong to leave correction officers
in a state of uncertainty and to create the need for additional
future litigation," he wrote.
While the ruling made a distinction between correction
officers and those officers on emergency response teams, the
court did indicate a willingness to extend the job hazard
protection to all officers. "The correction officer's duties of
employment," wrote Norcott, "distinctly require intimate physical
contact with the inmates, often in situations where blood and
other bodily fluids that transmit HIV are present." Department of
Corrections spokesperson Brian Garnett said officials are
reviewing the decision.
Attorney Joel Faxon said the deceased officer's family -
which includes two disabled children - will go back to the state
Workers' Compensation Commission and reapply for coverage.