It started as a romantic trip to New York. Then came a painful herpes infection. Now it is an unusual lawsuit in which a 24-year-old woman is seeking more than $100,000 from a man she says gave her the disease.
"It's just like if a guy got a woman pregnant and just walked out," said Susan Liptrot, a stamp cataloguer who filed the suit in Broward County Circuit Court. "She would be left with a child for the rest of her life. It's basically the same thing. I have something for the rest of my life. I have an incurable disease for the rest of my life."
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates that 5 million to 20 million Americans have herpes, a viral infection with no known remedy. At least three women have sued their husbands.
But her lawyer said Liptrot is believed to be the first to seek legal retribution against a short-term sex partner on grounds that he infected her without warning of the risk. Her action has thus put before the court a question facing a large number of unmarried Americans: whether and when to tell potential lovers about herpes.
Since filing the suit four months ago, Liptrot has answered reporters' questions over the telephone.
Now she has decided to talk openly about her case in full-fledged interviews and perhaps on talk shows in hopes, she said, that it will improve her chances in court and warn the public about herpes' dangers.
"You know, you might think twice," she said. "People might not want to take that kind of a risk to get that kind of thing done to their bodies."
Liptrot alleges in the suit that she was infected by Richard Basini, 32, a stamp dealer from Fort Lauderdale, during a trip they took to New York for a stamp show at the end of 1980. Basini failed to tell her he had herpes before they were intimate, she alleges.
Through his lawyer, Stanley Sacks, Basini declined to speak about the case, citing embarrassment and the court proceedings. Basini is contesting the charges.
Liptrot says the two met at a stamp show in Sarasota, Fla., in late 1980. After a dinner and a trip to nearby St. Petersburg for another stamp show, she agreed to go to New York with him, she said. There they had sex for the first and only time, she added, and she noticed sores on his genitals.
"He said he didn't know what it was," she claimed, adding later: "I didn't think anything about it."
Two days later, back home in Sarasota, she woke up ill. Three days later, she said, she found sores on herself. Four days later, she said, a doctor diagnosed her illness as herpes and she called Basini in Fort Lauderdale.
"I got the response, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' " she said.
The two saw each other a few more times, she said, and he sent her a necklace as a Christmas present. In February, 1981, he went to Sarasota for another stamp show and saw her, she said. After that, he did not see her, she added.
"For months, I tried to call him, you know, like every four weeks or every month, or something like that, just to see where he was at," she said. "And finally, I was getting the big brushoff, so I discontinued calling him. And I felt like, gosh, you know, this guy's done this to me, and he just up and walks out of his responsibilities for what his actions were."
About a year later, in February last year, she said she went to Fort Lauderdale, again for a stamp show, and ran into Basini. She was about to move to that area, where she now lives.
She said Basini asked her not to reveal their relationship to his girl friend, who was minding a stamp booth in the same show.
"That's basically when I decided and started thinking, well, gee, you know, this guy has done this to me, you know. He's got to some way pay for his actions," she said.
"There are so many people in this country, or in the world, I should say, who do have herpes, and not one of them has taken the steps to stand up and say, 'Hey, you know, why should this person not have any responsibility for what his actions were?' " she said.