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Woman Awarded $3.1 Million After Contracting Herpes at Salon

by NAILS Staff | September 1, 2002

A Westminster, Colo., woman who received a manicure at Top Nails in Aurora, Colo., has been awarded $3.1 million after a jury found she contracted herpes from unsterilized tools.

Kristina Preston, 29, said she contracted the virus when she visited the salon in 1998 for her first professional manicure. Preston told ABC News that after she left the salon, her cuticles on her thumbs felt like they were burning.

“Two days later they were swollen and tender,” Preston told ABC News. “When I removed my nail polish, I knew something was wrong. They were getting worse, I started developing blisters, which spread to all 10 fingers.”

Preston went to the doctor for testing, which came back positive for herpes and bacterial infections. A second set of tests found the same thing.

Six months after the manicure, Preston filled a lawsuit against the salon, contending the herpes has damaged her overall health and she can no longer live a normal life.

In addition to the sores, Preston said she began to suffer from upper respiratory sickness, pneumonia, bronchitis, strep, ear infections, and was constantly fatigued.

Lawyers for the nail salon, which argued that the nail technician kept her work station sanitized and that Preston developed the herpes virus elsewhere, plan to appeal the verdict.

But Richard Martillaro, Preston’s attorney told ABC News that the herpes virus has an incubation period of 48 to 72 hours, which fit Preston’s experience. The herpes also developed just in the area where the cuticle nippers had cut her skin.

According to Trina Chu, a manager at the salon, the judge has not ruled on the award, and there’s no set date on when that will happen.

Chu says the lawsuit and pending decision by the jury has affected the salon’s business. “But we have our loyal clients, and we’ve always stayed open,” says Chu. “If we felt we were at fault we would’ve closed down.”

Mary Lynne Blaesser, director of marketing for the Marine Agency, a Maplewood, N.J based insurance company, says the award seems a bit high. “Once the lawsuit is settled, the final sum might be less. They’d have to see the extent of the damage,” she says.

The verdict comes at a time when the issue of salon health and sanitation is gaining more attention from the media. The ABC news magazine show “20/20” recently aired a segment on MMA usage, and proper whirlpool foot spa disinfection has been a hot topic after clients at a Watsonville, Calif., salon contracted painful lesions on their legs that were later linked to the salon’s improper foot spa disinfection procedures.

And with more of these causes coming to light, some people in the beauty industry say it’s more important than ever for a salon owner and nail technician to take all of the proper precautions.

“All nail techs and salon owners should be carrying professional insurance,” says Blaesser. “And more of them are becoming aware of the need to carry this type of insurance.”

Kristina Preston says she contracted a form of the herpes virus, known as herpetic whitlow (example shown here), after receiving a manicure at a salon, The virus is characterized by swollen, painful lesions on the fingers and is transmitted through skin-to-skin contract when there is a skin break.

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