Originally created 12/31/98

Appeals court rules dentist violated federal law



BOSTON -- A dentist lost an appeal of a ruling that he broke federal law by insisting that an HIV-infected patient go to a hospital for treatment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals found that Dr. Randon Bragdon of Bangor, Maine, violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act by refusing to treat Sidney Abbott in his office in 1994 for fear of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

"I wasn't really surprised because they had supported us before, but for some people living with the virus, this is what it may take for them to feel comfortable," said Abbott, 37.

Bragdon had offered to fill the woman's cavity in a hospital, which he argued would allow him to take additional precautions against being infected.

Abbott was referred to Bragdon's office by the Eastern Maine AIDS Network after Bragdon allegedly told another patent that he would not treat patients with infectious disease, including AIDS. Bragdon's lawyer said the group targeted his client because they wanted to use the incident as a test case.

Abbott refused the dentist's offer to treat her in a hospital, which would have required her to pay $185 for a procedure that would cost only $35 at the office. She eventually had the cavity filled by another dentist.

The case was a lengthy and controversial one -- winding through Maine's district court, the U.S. Court of Appeals and even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court -- before being sent back to the appeals court, which issued its decision Tuesday.

According to federal law, Bragdon may also be held liable for Abbott's legal fees which are likely to top $300,000.

Bragdon was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, John W. McCarthy, said his client will likely ask the Supreme Court to re-evaluate the case.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that people with HIV are protected by the landmark 1990 discrimination act, except if they pose "a direct threat to the health and safety of others."