Venereal diseases, commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are passed between people primarily through sexual contact. The only way to not contract an STD, is to not have sexual intercourse or sexual contact with another person. Some diseases can be cured or are treatable, while others cannot be cured and can be fatal, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In many states, it is illegal to intentionally expose others to STDs. Penalties vary by state, and can range from fines and probation to sex offender registration and incarceration—including a life sentence. Laws may also provide relief to victims, in the form of medical expense compensation, and damages for pain and suffering.

A personal injury attorney in your jurisdiction will be able to provide more information on the laws of your own state, and the penalties associated with knowingly transmitting a sexually transmitted disease.

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What Qualifies as Intentional Exposure to a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

It is possible to be criminally prosecuted for intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly infecting another person with an STD. For instance, if someone was diagnosed with an STD, and later became sexually involved with another person without informing them of the disease, the person could be held liable.

On the other hand, if the person did not know they were infected when they infected someone else, it is unlikely that they can be held liable for transmitting the disease. A court will consider the following when deciphering whether exposure to a sexually transmitted disease was intentional:

  • The person was aware or should have been aware that they had the disease;
  • Then person did not tell their sexual partner of the disease; and
  • The person knew that engaging in sex acts could transmit the disease.

Most states hold that any infected individual has a duty to warn a potential sexual partner before engaging in any sexual contact. A disease such as HIV carries a higher standard with the law, but does not preclude the spread of other sexually-contagious diseases from being prosecuted.

What is Negligent Exposure to Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Everyone has a duty not to harm others, and if a person’s actions or inactions fall below this standard of care, they may be held liable. In the case of a sexually transmitted disease, the court will consider whether a reasonable person in the same situation would have acted similarly as the defendant. If not, the person could face severe consequences—in both criminal and civil court.

People who are sexually active but do not get screened for STDs, or those who have sex with multiple people without using protection could also be considered negligent. Accidental exposure to sexual diseases is difficult, if not impossible to litigate.

Many states have laws that protect an infected person from prosecution if they tell the other person before engaging in sexual contact. If the person consents to contact and later contracts the disease, they cannot sue their partner. Other states do not allow for this informed consent exception, and a person can be held liable for giving the disease to their partner even if their partner knew of the risks.

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Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Recover Damages?

If you are the victim of intentional exposure to a sexually transmitted disease, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Proving that a person intentionally spread a contagious disease can be difficult. Your lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights, help build your case, and represent your best interests in court.