South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Disability Due to Fear of AIDS Requires Scientific Evidence of Exposure
Description Tennessee high court held that a worker’s fear of becoming HIV positive due to exposure to a co-worker’s blood, which she presumed to be infected, was not grounds for worker’s compensation benefits. While the fears may be real to her, they are not scientific in origin.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Workers’ Compensation; Disability; Fear of AIDS
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Guess had worked at a Sharp manufacturing facility for four years when a co-worker cut his hand and Guess got some of the co-worker’s blood on her hand. She believed the worker to be suffering from AIDS because he “looked and acted gay,” was often sick, and had gay friends. At the time of the incident, she was “hysterical,” convinced that she would become HIV positive due to the blood. Subsequent tests are negative, but Guess suffers from depression, will not associate with other people and will not have sex with her husband. She applied for workers’ compensation. At trial, her doctor testified that she suffered from permanent impairment and could no longer work on an assembly line. Whether her fear is scientifically based, it is real and limits her functioning. The trial court awarded Guess 38% permanent partial disability. Sharp appealed.

Reversed. To be compensable under workers’ compensation, a mental injury must have resulted from an identifiable stressful, work-related event that produced a sudden mental stimulus such as fright, shock or excessive unexpected anxiety. A claimant seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a mental injury due to potential exposure to HIV must demonstrate actual exposure through a medically recognized channel of transmission.

Citation Guess v. Sharp Mfg. Co. of America, 114 SW3d 480 (Sup. Ct., Tenn., 2003)

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