The Sixth District Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a $909,900 judgment against a Palo Alto cardiologist who was sued by his ex-wife for infecting her with genital herpes, and lashed out at the appellant for his conduct.
The award against Dr. William Clusin, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford, includes $398,400 in punitive damages.
Plaintiff Jane Hetrick testified that when she was dating Clusin in 2004, she specifically asked, before embarking on a sexual relationship, as to whether he had herpes, and he denied that he did. Her inquiry stemmed from her brother nearly dying from herpes-related encephalitis.
They were wed in 2007.
She said that she found out that her husband had lied to her about having herpes when his son from a previous marriage revealed to her that Clusin had infected his then-wife with herpes. As it turned out, he had also infected another former wife.
Disdain for Conduct
Rebuffing Clusin’s insistence that the punitive damages were excessive, Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing declared:
“We believe the trial court could very reasonably conclude, as indeed we have concluded on such of the record as has been placed before us, that defendant, with full knowledge he was carrying what most people would view as a noxious disease, and without disclosing that fact to anyone, burdened three wives and quite possibly other sexual partners with that affliction. The most charitable construction we can place on his conduct, as found by the trial court upon ample evidence, is that he viewed the disease as insufficiently serious to require its disclosure, even when pointedly asked whether he was carrying it. The staggering hubris of this conduct, and its stark transgression against the norms of any decent and civilized society, amply justified a very substantial award of punitive damages.”
“Short of forcible rape, or intercourse with someone incapable of consent, it is difficult to imagine a greater outrage against the bodily autonomy and sexual sovereignty of another individual than to fraudulently induce them to enter an intimate relationship with the knowledge that doing so will expose them to likely infection. In plaintiff’s case, defendant’s conduct inflicted what threatens to be a lasting impairment of her ability and willingness to enter into intimate relationships with anyone else. His seemingly total lack of empathy for his victims, his repellent attempts to imply that they bear responsibility for their injuries, and his manifest lack of remorse for his ethically indefensible and morally corrupt conduct, further justify the award. If there is a reason to overturn or reduce the award, it has not been brought to our attention and has not otherwise surfaced in our review of the case.”