Man awarded $18.4m after doctors canceled his HIV test because he was not ‘at risk’

A federal jury in Boston has awarded $18.4 million to a man who said two doctors failed to test him for HIV, which later developed into AIDS.

Sean Stentiford, 48, consented to an HIV test in 2007 because he was experiencing facial paralysis, reported The Boston Globe. 

However, his doctors canceled the test without informing him. Around three years later, a different doctor suggested he have a test.

The results of the test came back positive and, because Stentiford had not started any treatment, the virus had progressed to AIDS.

It comes on the heels of news from the CDC that those who are at high risk of developing HIV are not tested as regularly as they should be.  

Sean Stentiford, 48, was awarded $18.4 million by a Boston jury on Thursday after two doctors failed to test him for HIV, which a test later revealed he had and it had developed into AIDS

Stentiford was more susceptible to HIV because he is gay and he had previously worked a paramedic, a profession that regularly exposed him bodily fluids, his attorney, David Angueira, said on Tuesday.

While an inpatient at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, Stentiford was told by internist Dr Stephen Southard that his symptoms were highly suggestive of HIV infection.

Despite signing the consent for the HIV test, neurologist Dr Kinan Hreib chose to cancel it, deeming that Stentiford was not at risk, but never telling him that the test had been canceled.

‘It is not unique to this case but providers don’t always feel comfortable asking the uncomfortable questions of the history of your sexual partners or if you’ve taken drugs,’ Mitchell Warren, of AVAC, an HIV prevention organization, told Daily Mail Online.

‘We have to work with providers to not prejudge, to say: “Oh they don’t look like they’re at risk so I won’t test them”. It’s the old adage about not judging a book by the cover.’ 

According to the lawsuit, when Stentiford visited the office of Southard, who was his primary care doctor, in June 2007, he was told his tests ‘looked good’.

Stentiford assumed this included the HIV test because he had signed the consent form, reported the Globe. 


You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities, most commonly through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.

The FDA has approved more than two dozen antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. 

They’re often broken into six groups because they work in different ways. 

Doctors recommend taking a combination or ‘cocktail’ of at least two of them.

Called antiretroviral therapy, or ART, it can’t cure HIV, but the medications can extend lifespans and reduce the risk of transmission.

1) Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)

NRTIs force the virus to use faulty versions of building blocks so infected cells can’t make more HIV.

2) Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)

NNRTIs bind to a specific protein so the virus can’t make copies of itself.

3) Protease Inhibitors (PIs)

These drugs block a protein that infected cells need to put together new copies of the virus.

4) Fusion Inhibitors

These drugs help block HIV from getting inside healthy cells in the first place.

5) CCR5 Antagonist

This stops HIV before it gets inside a healthy cell, but in a different way than fusion inhibitors. It blocks a specific kind of ‘hook’ on the outside of certain cells so the virus can’t plug in.

6) Integrase Inhibitors

These stop HIV from making copies of itself by blocking a key protein that allows the virus to put its DNA into the healthy cell’s DNA. 

It was three years later, as Stentiford felt his condition worsening, that he learned he was not tested for HIV in 2007.

Another doctor suggested he have the test, confirming a diagnosis and that it had progressed to AIDS.  

By the time of the diagnosis Stentiford was struggling with brain damage and cognitive impairment, the details of which remain unclear, forcing him to quit his job as an attorney, according to Angueria.

‘He had a brilliant future in front of him. They literally cut the legs out from under him,’ the Globe reported Angueira as saying. ‘He lost his job. He lost his career. He lost his life.’

The jury found Southard and Hreib, negligent in caring for Stentiford and caused him injury, according to court records. 

A third physician, Dr Daniel McQuillen, an infectious disease specialist, was also found negligent, but not of causing harm to Stentiford.

Stentiford’s lawyer says his client lives in New York City and currently controls his AIDS-related symptoms with medication.

The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once.

Those who are at higher risk, including men who have sex with men or those who have a sexual partner who is HIV positive, should be tested as often as once a year or more.

However, a new report from the agency, released on Thursday, found that those at high risk of HIV are not being tested as regularly as they should be.

A team of scientists found that the average length of time between two tests for high risk persons was 512 days, or almost a year-and-a-half.     

Warren, of AVAC, said it is critical to be aware of your at-risk status. 

‘We use many terms of being at-risk such as “gay man in NYC” or “pregnant woman in Africa” but you may not think you are at risk or think about yourself at risk,’ he said.

‘But you need to make sure you know your HIV status because if you are HIV-infected, getting on antiretroviral treatment is not only life-saving but it is possible you may live as long or as healthy a life as if you weren’t infected.

‘And if you are not infected but you are at risk, we have more options than ever to prevent infection.’

Bruce Richman of Prevention Access added: ‘We also now know that a person living with HIV on effective treatment cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners.

‘People living with HIV who know their status and are able to get the treatment and care they need will not only stay healthy, but will lead us to the end of the epidemic.’

Warren said that there is still stigma that surrounds the disease so people may not be willing to openly discussing their at-risk status with their doctors.

‘People don’t know their risk, perceive their risk or want to talk about it because there is still some cultural discrimination that surrounds it, and that’s not going to disappear overnight just because we have a pill that can treat HIV,’ he said.

‘People are not dying from HIV in the numbers they were 20 or 30 years ago, but we still have an epidemic. We can stop it and can get ahead of it, but it takes health professionals and individuals talking about being at-risk openly and honestly.’