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Ex-wife with HIV awarded millions

November 25, 2008|Joanna Lin | Lin is a Times staff writer.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Friday ordered a man who infected his former wife with the virus that causes AIDS to pay her $12.5 million.

The six-year legal battle between the couple, identified in court documents as "Bridget B." and "John B.," thrust their sexual history into public record and brought them before the California Supreme Court, where justices in 2006 ruled that people could be held liable for failing to inform a new partner of previous risky sexual behavior.

In his tentative ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu said John B. acted with fraud and malice and ordered him to pay his former wife $5 million in future loss of earnings and $7.5 million in general damages. Treu ruled in a bench trial last month that Bridget B. had justifiably trusted her husband until she had a reason not to.

The 43-year-old Los Angeles resident accused her former husband of fraud and negligence. She said in court testimony earlier this year that the couple had a loving courtship and storybook wedding, and that she had no reason to suspect that her then-husband had been exposed to HIV.

Both Bridget B. and John B. had tested negative for the virus in the past -- he before their honeymoon and she in 1995. Bridget B. said she did not engage in unprotected sex and had no plausible exposure to the virus between her negative test and meeting her husband three years later, according to court documents.

In October 2000, two months after the couple honeymooned in Bora Bora and had unprotected sex for the first time, Bridget B. tested positive for HIV. Thinking that she had infected her husband, Bridget B. testified that she had been guilt-ridden for more than a year.

But in early 2002, Bridget B. discovered that her husband had visited websites with sexually explicit homosexual content and found e-mails showing that he had had unprotected sex with men he met over the Internet, according to court documents.

John B. had also admitted to having sex with two men before their marriage, Bridget B. said in her testimony.

John B., who represented himself at trial, argued that his ex-wife had contracted the virus first.

He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Lars Johnson, an attorney for Bridget B., said Monday that he and his client were "very happy" with the ruling, adding that Treu's finding of fraud and malice ensured that John B. would have to pay his former wife even if he filed for bankruptcy.

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joanna.lin@latimes.com

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