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Insurer ordered to pay after herpes leaves man paralyzed

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An insurance company has been ordered to compensate a Lower Mainland man after a sexually transmitted disease left him a Paraplegic.

Randolph Charles Gibbens lost the use of his legs after contracting genital herpes.

His insurance company refused to pay, but a B.C. Supreme Court judge in Vancouver has ordered it to settle the claim.

Randolph Charles Gibbens told the court he knew there was a risk to having unprotected sex, but he testified he didn’t know any of the three women with whom he had sex in January and February 2003 had genital herpes.

On Feb. 17, the 45-year-old Gibbens went to his doctor complaining of headaches and back pain.

Four days later he went to the emergency ward of Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody, complaining he was unable to urinate, was shaky and was vomiting for two days. The hospital staff thought he was suffering from alcohol withdrawal.

Two days later he was a paraplegic, the victim of an extremely rare complication of genital herpes.

Gibbens was infected with Herpes Simplex Virus Type-2, which caused inflammation of his spinal cord, resulting in a permanent spinal cord injury, and total paralysis from his mid-abdomen down. There is less than a one-in-a-million chance of contracting the disease.

The tradesman filed a claim with his union’s insurance company, Co-Operators Life, asking for a $200,000 payout for the loss of the use of both legs.

The company rejected the claim, so Gibbens sued.

The trial judge had to rule whether his illness was accidental. The company argued it was not unforeseen or unexpected for Gibbens to contract a sexually transmitted disease.

In his ruling issued Friday, Justice F. W. Cole, agreed Gibbens’s actions were foolish, but ruled Gibbens did not expect to become a paraplegic as a result of having unprotected sex.

He compared it to walking across a street: there’s a risk, but that doesn’t mean people expect to be hit by a vehicle.

“In my view, contracting HSV-2 when having unprotected sex is similarly accidental as being exposed to toxic substances or being bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus,” wrote Cole in his decision. “It is an unexpected event and is not a ‘natural cause.'”
Therefore, Cole ruled, Gibbens’s condition was accidental, and the company must pay him the $200,000 for his insurance claim.

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