Liability for Transmitting a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)

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 May a Person be Held Liable for Spreading a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

A sexually transmitted disease, or STD, is a physical condition which can be transmitted by sexual contact. The majority of states have local STD laws which make it the failure to disclose an STD or to knowingly transmit an STD to another individual a crime.

There are numerous examples of sexually transmitted diseases, including:

  • Gonorrhea;
  • HIV;
  • Syphilis;
  • Chlamydia trachomatis;
  • Genital herpes virus;
  • Human papillomavirus; and
  • Hepatitis C.

The elements of the crime of exposing another individual to an STD include:

  • A perpetrator being aware they are infected with an STD;
  • A perpetrator intending to transmit that STD to another individual;
  • A perpetrator engaging in conduct which creates a substantial risk of transmission to another individual; and
  • A perpetrator transmits the STD to the other individual.

Exposure to and transmission of STDs typically include:

  • Engaging in unprotected sexual activity;
  • Permitting another individual to use a syringe or needle which the perpetrator already used;
  • Donating bodily fluids, such as blood or tissue, for the purpose of transferring the STD to another individual.

When Can a Person be Sued for Transmitting an STD?

In some states, failing to disclose having an STD is a crime. In Florida, for example, the law requires an individual who has sexual contact with another individual to disclose whether or not they have an STD or they can face criminal charges.

In Florida, the failure to disclose an STD may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. The specific STD that is transmitted influences both the criminal charge as well as the penalty which is imposed. Under Florida laws, some STDs are considered more serious than others.

An individual can sue the perpetrator for knowingly spreading STDs, no matter which disease is transmitted. An individual may be able to recover compensation for medical treatment associated with the disease as well as damages for emotional distress.

How Does Negligence Factor in?

The most common legal basis for a lawsuit involving STDs is negligence. A defendant may be held liable for negligence when their conduct breached the duty of care which the law imposes on all individuals and that breach causes the plaintiff to be injured.

To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care;
  • The actions of the defendant breached the duty of care;
  • The plaintiff was injured as a result of defendant’s breach of the duty of care; and
  • The injury or injuries resulted in damage to the plaintiff.

The duty of sexual partners not to transmit an STD carelessly has been recognized by many courts. The main component of a claim for the negligent transmission of an STD is the requirement that the perpetrator knew or should have known that they had an STD prior to transmitting it.

An individual is deemed to have reason to know of a disease if they possess information from which a reasonable individual would infer that they suffer from the disease. In some states, an individual may engage in sexual contact if they inform the other individual of their STD status.

In these states, so long as the other individual knowing consents to the sexual contact, the individual with an STD would not be liable for any harm resulting from that contact. This, however, is not the case in all states.

How Does Fraud Factor in with Such Cases?

Fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation is another legal theory under which a plaintiff may sue for recovery after the transmission of an STD. In general, in order to prove fraud:

  • A party must knowingly make a false assertion or representation;
  • Another party must rely on that assertion or representation; and
  • The party who relied on the representation must suffer harm as a result.

Usually, fraud cases concerning the contraction of STDs occur when a defendant knows that they have an STD but they hide, conceal, or otherwise fail in their duty to disclose knowledge of the STD in order to have sexual contact and their partner contracts the STD as a result of that contact. The individual who knowingly fails to disclose the knowledge of their STD to a partner may be held liable for any injuries which are sustained by that partner.

It is important to note that the duty to disclose an individual’s STD status rests with the individual who has the STD. Public disclosure of an individual’s private medical condition by another individual may create liability for an invasion of privacy.

In the majority of states, the disclosure of an individual’s STD status by another individual is strictly prohibited. There are, however, a few exceptions involving medical procedures and court proceedings.

What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress, which is also known as mental anguish, is a type of injury which is mainly psychological injury that can be asserted in a civil lawsuit. The law recognizes emotional distress as mental suffering which occurs as a result of an experience caused by the negligence or an intentional act of another individual, typically of a physical nature.

Although it may appear to be obvious, many individuals who contract STDs experience emotional distress, which may include:

  • Guilt;
  • Humiliation;
  • Anxiety; and
  • Self-destructive thoughts.

An individual may be able to recover damages for this type of emotional distress if the other individual, by their extreme and outrageous conduct, recklessly or intentionally causes that individual severe emotional distress.

Many courts have ruled that transmitting an STD may rise to this level of extreme conduct. Typically, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress for the transmission of an STD includes a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

It may be easier to prove in court that a defendant’s conduct was negligent rather than intentional. In either scenario, the physical manifestation of the STD in a plaintiff helps to make their case for the recovery of damages whether their claim is based upon negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Does Battery and Other Criminal Liability Apply?

An individual may face criminal liability for STD transmission. One crime that an individual may be charged with is battery.

Batter is a harmful, intentional, or offensive touching of another individual without their consent. The main issue that arises with proving a battery occurred is proving the intent of the defendant.

An individual may also be charged with the offense of knowingly transmitting an STD. In some states, this offense is classified as a misdemeanor and, in other states, it is a felony.

An individual may face certain criminal penalties for knowingly transmitting an STD. These penalties may include:

  • Jail time;
  • Criminal fines;
  • A combination of both jail time and a criminal fine; and
  • Other penalties.

If an individual is convicted, they may face jail time of up to one year for a misdemeanor charge and up to life in prison for a felony charge.

In addition, fines may be imposed for a conviction of knowingly transmitting an STD. /in most states, the fines for transmitting an STD usually range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Other penalties may include being required to make restitution payments or being required to register as a sex offender.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with an STD-Related Case?

It is essential to have the assistance of a personal injury lawyer for any STD related issues you may be facing. As noted above, the liability for transmitting an STD can vary greatly by state. Your attorney can advise you of the laws of your state and whether you may be able to recover for your injuries.

If you have been charged with transmitting an STD, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A conviction can result in life-altering consequences and having an attorney is the best way to protect your rights.

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