R.C. v. Minister of Health & Children

2012 [IEHC] 204
Download Judgment: English

This case was about whether a woman who contracted HIV infection from her partner qualified for compensation under Section 4(1)(g) of the Hepatitis C Compensation Act 1997 (the “Act”) as a spouse.

R.C. was a 26-year-old woman, who had been diagnosed positive for HIV, and A.F. was her partner who had been compensated by the Hepatitis C and HIV Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) as he contracted the infection from contaminated blood products used in the treatment of his haemophiliac condition.

In 2003, R.C. and A.F. moved in to live together for 6 months but moved back to live with their own parents while maintaining a healthy relationship. Their relationship was considered as loving and committed by their families. During their time of living together, R.C. contracted her infection from A.F. However, when she applied to the Tribunal for the compensation under Section 4(1) (g) of Act, the Tribunal rejected her application.

The Tribunal reasoned that she did not come within the definition of “spouse” under Section 4(1)(g) of the Act, and R.C. appealed to this court.

Section 4(1) of the Act, as amended, provides:”The following persons may make a claim for compensation to the Tribunal-…

(f) a person who has been diagnosed positive for HIV as a result of receiving a relevant product within the State,

(g) children or any spouse of a person referred to in paragraph (f) who have themselves been diagnosed positive for HIV…”

The relevant provision of Section 4(8A) of the Act, as relates to A.F. provides as follows:”A claimant referred to in paragraph (f), (g), (h), (i) or (j) of subsection (1) shall, as the case may be, establish to the satisfaction of the Tribunal, on the balance of probabilities-(a) that the HIV in respect of which the claimant has been diagnosed positive from resulted from a relevant product received by the claimant within the State…”

Section 1 of the Act provides:”‘spouse’ in relation to a person includes a person with whom the person is or was at a material time cohabiting.”

The Court held that R.C. is entitled to the compensation pursuant to Section 4(1)(g) of Act, as she was qualified as a “cohabitant” of A.F. under Section 1 of the Act. Although the Act was silent on the definition of “cohabiting” and “at a material time”, taking a literal interpretation approach, R.C. and A.F. were engaged in a loving and committed relationship. In addition, judging from other legislative sections providing a specific time period, it was clear that it was the legislature’s intention to not include a specific qualifying period of cohabitation for the purpose of Section 1.

“It is important to note at this juncture that the 1997 Act is concerned with health and safety concerns and the compensation of persons infected by relevant blood products, whereas the 2010 Act deals with property rights. It is entirely reasonable that living together in a committed relationship would be the only criterion for the purposes of health and safety issues, whereas the creation of property rights would require additional qualifying criteria. However, if guidance is taken from the aforementioned definition of cohabitant, it is my view that, having regard to the evidence heard on the present application, the court would nonetheless have to conclude that the parties were cohabiting at the material time.” (Para 57)

 

“It is clear that if the legislature had intended that the right to compensation be dependent upon a particular period of cohabitation, then that would have been provided for in the 1997 Act. A spouse within the meaning of s. 4(1)(g) need not have been living with the person for any specific duration. The clear intention of the legislation, manifested by the distinction between the lack of a specified duration in s. 4(1)(g) on the one hand, and the specific periods of cohabitation provided for ins. 4(1) (h) and s. 3 on the other, was to include a wider range of applicant in respect of claims by persons diagnosed with HIV than the narrower range of applicant in respect of claims for loss of consortium, post-traumatic stress disorder, nervous shock and loss of society.” (Para. 59)

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