Associated Press (05.04.04) - 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.