Court of Appeal allows Boxer to Sue State Athletic Commission
The San Francisco Chronicle (California)
October 26, 2009 Monday
Copyright 2009 San Francisco Chronicle
All Rights Reserved
BYLINE: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
A boxing referee who learned after a fight that one of the combatants was HIV-positive can sue the State Athletic Commission for negligence, a state appeals court has ruled.
The commission has a legal duty to make sure all licensed professional boxers have tested negative for the AIDS virus, as well as hepatitis-B and hepatitis-C, before entering the ring and can be sued for allowing an infected person to fight, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Bernardino said Friday.
The ruling reinstated a suit by veteran referee Ray Corona Sr., who officiated a June 2005 bout in San Bernardino County. A week later, Corona said, he got a letter from the commission saying one boxer's test results had come in only after the fight and that Corona may have been exposed to the virus.
The letter, quoted by the court, encouraged Corona to be tested and advised him to "think about what might happen if, before you receive your test results, you engage in activities in which you might transmit one of those diseases to someone else."
Damages sought for distress
Corona and his wife, Arlene, who joined him in the lawsuit, were both distraught, having been unaware of any need to protect themselves from infection, said their lawyer, John C. Burton. He said they had both tested negative. Their suit seeks damages for emotional distress.
The ruling did not identify the boxer.
A Superior Court judge dismissed the suit in 2007, saying the state is immune from damages for any decision to grant or deny a professional license. But the appeals court said testing boxers for HIV before fights is not a discretionary decision, like issuing a license, but a legal mandate.
State law requires that the commission get negative test results from boxers at annual license renewals and before any fight that takes place at least 180 days after the previous test, the court said.
The law "immunizes only discretionary decisions, not mandatory actions," said Justice Manuel Ramirez in the 3-0 ruling.
Burton said the athletic commission had responded coldly to Corona's complaint and had never made any effort to resolve it. He said Corona is still a referee.
Commission spokesman Luis Farias declined to comment on the ruling, saying officials hadn't reviewed it yet. But he said the commission "recently has made a number of improvements to help prevent such occurrences."
He said the doctor at a boxer's prefight weigh-in and the event supervisor "both review the medical records so that athletes are protected."
"Think about what might happen if, before you receive your test results, you engage in activities in which you might transmit one of those diseases to someone else."
Letter from State Athletic Commission to referee Ray Corona Sr., stating HIV results came after a fight and that Corona may have been exposed.