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T&T: State to compensate HIV-positive former prisoner

March 1, 2024

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC -A High Court judge has ordered the state to pay TT$350,000 (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) in compensation to a former prisoner who was discriminated against and denied treatment because of his HIV-positive status due to the “deliberate act on the part of prison officers.”

Justice Kevin Ramcharan said that denying the ex-prisoner access to sufficient medical care because he is HIV-positive meant his rights to life, security of the person and equality of treatment had been infringed.

The 45-year-old ex-prisoner, who has been HIV-positive for more than 20 years,  has asked that his name not to be published because of his HIV-positive status.

He had been in prison from 2017-2019 and in his lawsuit, said he developed a pimple-sized abscess on his right foot in 2018 and asked for treatment. He was only treated after he collapsed and as the abscess grew, he begged for treatment.

His lawsuit contends that his please for medical treatment were ignored and five weeks after the abscess appeared, it ruptured. He said an attempt was made to drain it, but it was only partly successful and the man was left unable to walk.

A doctor had ordered that he should be sent to the Port of Spain General Hospital for surgical intervention and although doctors were able to save his life and limb, he lost large amounts of tissue, muscle, ligament and nerve endings.

He was discharged from the hospital with instructions for his wound to be cleaned and dressed every other day.

However, he claimed that during the nine months he spent at the prison’s infirmary, prison officers refused to clean or care for his wounds because of his HIV-positive status.

He said he is now permanently disfigured and handicapped.

In his ruling, the judge dismissed the state’s contentions that the lawsuit was an abuse of process. He said it contained a special feature, and while a finding of negligence could not be made, prison officers’ denial of treatment because of his HIV-positive status “was a deliberate act.”

The judge said that in examining the evidence, including medical records and prison entries, he found “evidence of the treatment of the claimant” was lacking and that it was was deficient.

“The court is compelled to make adverse inferences against the defendant,” Justice Ramcharan said, noting “in the circumstances, the court finds as a fact that the claimant’s initial abscess and subsequent treatment on his return from the hospital were not properly dealt with because of his HIV status.”

But while the judge found there were breaches of the claimant’s rights and he was discriminated against, he said he could not make a declaration that the prison authorities acted unlawfully or illegally in breach of prison rules, as those were reliefs applicable to judicial review, and not constitutional claims.

The State has also been ordered to pay the ex-prisoner’s legal costs.

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