The Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal’s refusal to compensate a woman who suffered a psychiatric illness after her father died from an HIV-related illness 30 years ago has been overturned in a landmark High Court decision by Mr Justice Bernard Barton.
The ruling now leaves open the door to a number of similar claims that are before the tribunal, which was set up in 1995 to compensate anyone infected with Hepatitis C as a result of the use of infected blood products.
Judge Barton said the woman suffered “nervous shock” or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by her late father’s death from a HIV-related infection which he contracted through the administration of contaminated blood products.
The judge said he was satisfied to set aside a 2015 decision of the tribunal that she was not entitled to compensation, and has readmitted her application to the tribunal for assessment and an award of compensation.
Judge Barton heard that the woman’s father, who was a haemophiliac, was one of the first people in Ireland to die after contracting HIV/AIDS. His daughter’s identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons.
Judge Barton said that the circumstances of her father’s death were anything but normal describing them as “horrific” and “harrowing”. He said the woman, now in her 40s, had been close to her father who had “wasted away” due to complications from his illness.
“There was at the time of his death in the 1980s a stigma attached that was not just social but also medical,” the judge said.
He said her mother had told other people that her father had died of cancer and following his death he was not laid out, but had been zipped into a body bag and placed in a sealed coffin.
The judge noted that the woman, who was in her teens at the time of his death, knew he had contracted HIV but did not discuss this with anyone for many years. She never told her mother, who was determined to keep her father’s cause of death hidden from everybody, that she knew the truth.
Judge Barton said he found the woman to be a truthful witness and accepted her account of the loneliness, recurring nightmares and devastating emptiness she suffered arising out of her father’s death. In order to cope she had started to drink alcohol.
She had also ended up in a hopelessly unsuitable marriage to a man involved with dangerous criminals. They had threatened her safety after her home was raided by gardaí and some years ago she had been admitted to hospital suffering from depression.
In setting aside the tribunal’s dismissal of her claim and remitting it to the tribunal for fresh consideration, Judge Barton adjourned the proceedings to a date in October for final orders in the case.
Source: The Journal