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Prego Settles AIDS Suit for $1.35 Million

March 10, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ A physician who maintains she contracted AIDS from a contaminated needle settled her lawsuit for $1.35 million in an agreement negotiated with the city hospital agency, the trial judge revealed Friday.

Veronica Prego, 32, will receive two-thirds of the award, or $900,000, when it is paid by the city in about two weeks. The remainder will go to the lawyers who represented her.

After a trial that lasted more than two months, Prego unexpectedly dropped her lawsuit and agreed to the out-of-court settlement as the jury was scheduled to hear closing arguments. The settlement was announced Thursday.

Prego was unavailable Friday for comment on the settlement, one of her lawyers said.

The day before, Prego said she would use the money to help her family and to provide for her medical expenses in ″the tough days ahead.″

Brooklyn state Justice Aaron D. Bernstein on Friday reversed his order to participants not to disclose the amount after the New York Post sued to have the settlement unsealed.

The judge said he had issued the gag order to spare Prego the embarrassment of being questioned by reporters about why she settled for such a seemingly small sum.

″It was something that touched a chord with Dr. Prego. She didn’t want people to think that the value of the case was that little,″ Bernstein said.

″I didn’t want Dr. Prego to be questioned about the reason she took that amount of money when she sued for so much more,″ he said.

Prego initially sought $175 million when she sued the city Health and Hospitals Corp. and two physicians, but the dollar figure was later removed from the lawsuit, filed two years ago.

In her lawsuit, Prego contended she had developed AIDS after puncturing her finger with a contaminated needle carelessly left amid soiled refuse on a patient’s bed at Kings County Hospital.

Bernstein, who considered the agreement ″fair,″ said Prego reluctantly agreed to settle because she didn’t want the case to be tied up in the courts any longer.

Hospitals Corp. lawyers had promised they would appeal if the jury found for Prego, and an appeal could take two years or more. During the trial, Prego’s personal physician said she might have less than a year to live.

″It’s our belief they played hardball with a dying woman,″ one of Prego’s lawyers, Susan M. Karten said. ″I’m happy for her it’s over. I’m relieved. I’m just sorry for what she went through.″

She said Prego was ready to settle for a lesser sum before filing her negligence lawsuit two years ago, but the city refused.

The Hospitals Corp. said it was pleased with the settlement.

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