The man who brought suit against Rock Hudson for concealing his AIDS — Marc Christian MacGinnis – has died in Los Angeles of complications brought on by smoking cigarettes. Despite MacGinnis’ exposure to the HIV virus, he may never have contracted HIV; at any rate, the papers report that he did not die of complications arising from his exposure.
Why discuss MacGinnis in a blog about negotiation and dispute resolution? Because we all have an imperfect understanding of the reasons people bring suit against one another.
Are most plaintiffs golddiggers as MacGinnis was so often said to be? Or have they suffered what they believe to be an injustice — which is the reason they turn to the “justice” system for vindication?
Everyone has his or her own story and at MacGinnis’ death we are told his “side.” Yes, he sued Hudson for monetary compensation. But did something else motivate him to bring suit? Had he been treated unfairly? Were his fears of a devastating illness and agonizing death reasonable ones? Could an award of damages “make him whole”?
Today the Los Angeles Times once again recounts the series of events that brought Marc Christian MacGinnis to the Los Angeles Superior Court for recompense.
[MacGinnis] and Hudson became lovers . . . [in] 1983, [and by late that year] they were living together in Hudson’s Beverly Hills mansion.
When Hudson began losing weight and looking ill, he told Christian, who was about 27 years his junior, that he was merely dieting; later, associates said he was anorexic.
Christian said he learned the true cause of his partner’s increasing gauntness the way the rest of the world did — from a 1985 television broadcast from Paris, where Hudson had flown to seek treatment for AIDS.
“I thought I was a dead man,” Christian recalled thinking at the time.
He tested negative for the disease after several tests. Told by medical experts that the best treatment would cost $100,000 a year with a life expectancy of three years, he approached Hudson’s managers after the actor’s death and asked them to place $300,000 in a trust fund to cover his care if he developed AIDS, with the funds returning to the estate if he remained AIDS-free.
When the managers turned him down, “That’s when he went to Marvin Mitchelson,” the famous palimony attorney who filed the lawsuit against Hudson’s estate, said Brent Beckwith, who was Christian’s lover and best friend for nine years.
The pre-suit request for recompense was tailored to the injury MacGinnis suffered in a way no jury verdict could be. The promise to return the money to Hudson’s estate if MacGinnis did not fall ill as he worried he would was particularly generous — MacGinnis did not ask for anything other than the anticipated cost of his medical care — and then only if he actually needed it. At this point, we might be asking ourselves how much litigation is undertaken because we do not have universal medical care. Would MacGinnis have brought suit in any event? We’ll never know. It appears, however, that he was initially willing to seek only “make whole” recompense rather than reaching for the litigation brass ring.
Twelve Los Angeles Superior Court jurors thought MacGinnis’ injury was far greater than the medical expense settlement originally offered — to the tune of $21.75 million, which was reduced by the Court and affirmed on appeal at $5.5 million.
The settlement pending a request for Supreme Court review was reportedly “less than $6 million.”
At Thanksgiving dinner, a physician opined that there could be no health care reform in the absence of tort reform. Taking my own Thanksgiving dinner table conversation advice, I nodded my head knowingly and took another helping of mashed potatoes. I’ve since wondered whether the doctor hadn’t gotten it backwards. There could be no real malpractice tort reform in the absence of health care reform.
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