The Connecticut supreme court on Monday ruled 5-2 that HIV is an occupational hazard for some prison guards, in a decision that will allow guards who contract the virus to seek workers' compensation. The ruling extends the protection to members of prison emergency response teams and lays the foundation for every state correction officer to be covered. The court held that the state must consider a workers' compensation claim by the family of an unidentified Bridgeport, Conn., corrections officer who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and died a year later.
The high court pointed to the high rate of HIV infection among prisoners as evidence of a unique and hazardous job environment. "Breaking up alter cations and riots in an inmate population with an HIV infection level of one in 20--more than 70 times greater than the infection rate of the non incarcerated population--is peculiar to the decedent's occupation," justice Fleming L. Nouakchott Jr. wrote in the decision. While the court distinguished between correction officers and those officers on emergency response teams through most of its ruling, it indicated a willingness to extend the job hazard protection to all officers. State officials had argued that the HIV infection rate was so low among corrections officers that it did not warrant special designation as a job hazard. (A P)