Local woman sues Kaiser over HIV test

Mary E. Benton seeks class action status




A Clark County woman has filed a lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente for testing patients’ blood for human immunodeficiency virus without their knowledge or consent. She’s seeking to have the suit made into a class action.

The lawsuit was filed this week by Mary E. Benton in Clark County Superior Court. The lawsuit seeks $1,000 or actual damages for each patient whose right to opt out was negligently violated and $10,000 or actual damages for each patient whose right to opt out was recklessly violated.

Benton has the same name as the wife of state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver and is the only Mary E. Benton listed as a registered voter in Clark County. However, The Columbian was unable to confirm if the plaintiff is the 51-year-old wife of the Republican senator from Vancouver.

In April, Kaiser started phasing in a new protocol in line with a federal recommendation to routinely test all adults for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Patients ages 50-65 were the first phase. People older than 50 also have the fastest growing rate of HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Benton claims that she was among about 6,500 other Oregon and Washington Kaiser members who were tested for the disease between April 11 and May 5 without their knowledge, which violates Washington state law, the lawsuit says. Her suit, filed Monday, is on behalf of herself and the others who were affected.

The case was filed by Seattle law firm, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio. The claims are brought strictly under state law, rather than federal law, the suit says.

Attorney R. Travis Jameson of the firm declined to comment on the case or confirm or deny whether the plaintiff is the wife of the senator. Don and Mary Benton did not return phone calls from The Columbian seeking confirmation of her possible involvement in the suit.

Kaiser Permanente Northwest apologized in mid-May for testing the 6,500 Kaiser patients without their knowledge or consent.

At that time, Kaiser said in a statement:

“We deeply regret that this lack of communication may have caused unnecessary concern for our members and patients,” and have “taken steps to ensure that members have an opportunity to opt out of the test going forward.”

Dr. Tom Hickey, Kaiser’s chief medical officer, said in a statement Friday that the health organization took “immediate steps to protect the interest of our members.”

He said he couldn’t comment further on the pending litigation.

However, he noted that HIV remains an epidemic in the United States, with 56,000 people infected each year.

“Kaiser Permanente remains committed to continuing its efforts to remain a national leader in HIV/AIDS care and early detection,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.