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Confidential Settlement – Product Liability Case Where Issue Was Whether Toxoplasmosis Caused by Chemical or AIDS

Plaintiff was a gay man in his early 30’s who worked back stage at a major San Francisco play house that featured visiting Broadway productions. During one of these Broadway productions, it was plaintiff’s job to spray paint several hundred pairs of shoes every night between shows. In the early 1980s, soon after this show left town, plaintiff developed a severe blood condition known as “toxoplasmosis” which was killing him.

Only suspecting something that what he did at his job caused the toxoplasmosis, plaintiff retained the law offices of Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP. The law firm retained a team of toxicologists and industrial medicine doctors who testified that the chemical toluene contained in the spray paint was the cause of the toxoplasmosis and that there was an inadequate warnings of danger of the chemical on the cans of spray paint. There had been a number of cases around the country associating toxoplasmosis with toluene; therefore, it was reasonable to assume that the toluene was the cause of plaintiff’s life threatening condition.

In the middle of the case, news reports began appearing in the media of new diseases known as AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses. The news stories and scientific studies began describing toxoplasmosis as one of the usual and more serious complications of AIDS. Based on the fact that the plaintiff was gay, the defense changed their strategy and had the plaintiff re-examined and blamed the plaintiff’s illness on his sexual orientation and sexual activities.

The law offices of Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP, responded by retaining specialists in the treatment and cause of AIDS (there were only a handful at the time) to perform examinations and study the new AIDS research. This case turned into a huge battle as the spray paint manufacturer attempted to discover every detail of the plaintiff’s sex life and the law firm attempted to protect his privacy. Ultimately, the fact that three months of 4-hour-a-day exposure to an agent known to cause toxoplasmosis seemed like a more likely cause of the eventual death than a then newly discovered illness which seemed to cluster in gay men.

RESULT: Confidential settlement on behalf of plaintiff

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