SEATTLE--An Oregon woman has won a $900,000 jury verdict against a retired dentist who gave her a surprise case of herpes on their fourth date—the latest of a few large damage awards for an affliction so common it has become a ubiquitous feature of dating life.
The jury in Portland deliberated only two hours before finding that the woman was only 25% responsible for contracting the sexually transmitted disease that subsequently made her life a misery—while the man who neglected to tell her until after they’d had sex would have to compensate her for her pain and suffering.
“He was 69, my client was a very attractive 49. My argument to the jury was he just wanted to sink his hooks into her,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Randall Vogt, said in an interview.
Neither the woman nor her date has been publicly identified, to protect what’s left of their privacy. The defendant’s attorney did not respond to calls for comment. But according to Vogt, the case hinged on allegations of battery—the man’s aggressive consummation of the date before the woman could make sure he was wearing a condom—and negligence, his failure to mention that he had herpes until it was too late.
Vogt said the case was made easier to prove because the woman had received a clean bill of health, indicating she had not developed antibodies to herpes, shortly before the date in question.
The two met on eHarmony, an online dating site, and decided to have sex on their fourth date. Vogt said the woman asked the man to use a condom, and offered him one from her bed stand. “The next thing she knew, he was on top of her,” and not wearing the condom, the lawyer said.
Very shortly afterward, he said, the man told her he had herpes, though he was not suffering lesions at the time. Vogt said the virus is transmissible not only when there are obvious lesions, but when the virus is in a “shedding” phase with no outward signs.
“I argued that the reason he told her [after the fact] was that he had a guilty conscience about what he had just done,” Vogt said.
The woman came down with herpes within 11 days, and suffered not only painful outbreaks, but anxiety and depression.
Defense attorney Shawn Lillegren raised the possibility that the woman may have had sex with other men who might have given her the disease, according to the Oregonian, which followed the trial. The retired dentist testified that he didn’t know he was contagious, and told her only because he assumed it would become important as their relationship progressed.
Lillegren argued that the woman bore responsibility for the encounter as well. “Grow up. Come on. You’re an adult. He’s an adult. They had sex,” Lillegren told the jury, according to the Oregonian. “The point is, she is not some innocent little victim.”
The case was one of several that have awarded damages or resulted in settlements as a result of herpes infection. Possibly the largest was in California, where a state appeals court in 2011 upheld a $4.3-million award to a Riverside County woman who contracted herpes from a former boyfriend.