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Jury to hear HIV lawsuit

Despite statute of limitations, L.A. judge rules woman's case against husband who infected her is valid.

June 10, 2008|Victoria Kim | Times Staff Writer

In tearful testimony, the woman known in court documents as "Bridget B." choked up as she described the first time she met her ex-husband, the man she is now suing for infecting her with HIV.

After a six-year legal battle that has thrust the couple's sexual history into the public record and taken them before the California Supreme Court, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that Bridget B.'s case, in which she accuses her husband of fraud and negligence, will be tried before a jury in October.

In a hearing Monday, the plaintiff testified that the couple had a loving courtship and a storybook wedding, and that she had no reason to suspect that her then-husband may have kept from her the fact that he may have been exposed to HIV in the past.

"I just married my husband, I wouldn't have married him if I didn't trust him," said the 42-year-old Los Angeles resident under cross-examination from her husband, John B., who was acting as his own attorney because he can no longer afford to pay his lawyer. "I was operating on responsibility rather than blame," she said.

Bridget B. said that after she tested positive for the virus in October 2000, she was guilt-ridden for more than a year thinking she had given it to her husband. Her husband tested negative for HIV before their honeymoon and again around the time that Bridget B. tested positive.

But in early 2002, Bridget B. discovered that her husband had visited websites with explicit homosexual content, and found e-mails showing that he had unprotected sex with men he met on the Internet, her attorney Lars Johnson told the court. Her husband also admitted to having had sex with two men prior to their marriage, Bridget B. said in her testimony. She filed a lawsuit seeking damages in April of that year.

The case went before the California Supreme Court in 2006, where justices ruled that people could be held liable for failing to inform a new partner of previous risky sexual activity. In the same ruling, the court said Bridget B. was entitled to her husband's sexual history in pretrial discovery, but only for a six-month period leading up to his last negative HIV test. False negatives are possible up to six months after a person has been exposed to HIV.

At issue before the court Monday was whether the lawsuit was brought within the one-year statute of limitations.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu called the case "tragic" and ruled that the plaintiff had justifiably trusted her husband until she had a reason not to.

"She really believed in her marriage vows," Treu said, adding that he was impressed with how "trusting" and "thoughtful" the plaintiff appeared to be.

Attorneys for Bridget B. said they would be seeking "eight figures at least" in damages.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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