Ryan Malnar does not handle STD personal injury cases. This post is for informational purposes only.
The transmission of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) such as HIV can result in criminal and civil liability depending on jurisdictional law. Although they are common, STD infections still carry a certain stigma, which makes some reluctant to make full disclosure to a potential partner. Intentional transmission and failure to disclose happen often, but it can be difficult to determine where liability exists. In this guide is the answer to the question “Can you sue someone for giving you an STD?”
Battery, Negligence and STDs
Negligence is defined as causing harm to someone in a reckless or careless manner. To be held liable, a party must have a duty and breach it somehow, and the breach must cause harm to another person’s body or property. Everyone has the duty to act non-negligently, and in the context of spreading HIV, it means that an infected person has a duty not to conceal his/her status from others.
Spreading HIV can result in a negligence suit, which does not consider intent—so the defendant could not use their unintentional spreading of the disease as a defense. Even the use of prophylactics may not completely remove liability in these cases. Transmission typically results in a battery lawsuit, which does consider intent. If a person intentionally has relations with someone to infect them with HIV, battery charges and civil liability will follow. These lawsuits are intrusive and expensive, and unless the potential recovery justifies the time and cost, it isn’t worthwhile for a victim or a personal injury lawyer.
Privacy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Another area in which HIV can result in a lawsuit is that of privacy. Medical info is typically regarded as confidential, and it can be released only with the affected person’s permission. Disclosing the existence of an STD without the carrier’s permission can result in a lawsuit based on negligence or the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
STD Transmission and Criminal Liability
In some jurisdictions, an individual who intentionally infects someone with a sexually transmitted disease may face criminal charges. The life-altering nature of HIV gave impetus to many such laws, which were often passed without much debate. Criminalizing STD transmission is mostly based on the carrier’s prior awareness of his/her condition.
However, in many of these cases, there’s been no medical diagnosis or visible symptoms of HIV infection. This situation creates a murky area where intent is concerned. Can a party who didn’t know he/she was ill be charged for intentionally infecting someone with HIV? These questions are hard to answer, and today’s laws are usually written to prevent charges against those who were unaware of their illness.
Conversely, there are many instances where a mentally disturbed person has maliciously and intentionally infected one or more people with HIV. These situations result in battery charges, as well as criminal liability for breaking laws related to the intentional transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. In some instances, a person in this situation can be charged with attempted murder.
Many jurisdictions have laws allowing for those infected with STDs to engage in intimate contact without fear of reprisal, as long as they offer full disclosure of their status. As long as the partner agrees to the contact, the infected individual cannot be held liable for the transmission of the disease. However, in some places, the informed consent defense is not used, and a person can be held liable even if the other person knows of the infection.
If a person is convicted of knowingly transmitting HIV, they can face a variety of criminal penalties. Most jurisdictions class it as a misdemeanor or a felony, and penalties can vary widely. They include:
- Prison or jail time: A misdemeanor conviction can bring a sentence of up to a year, while a felony can bring a sentence of over one year in state prison.
- Heavy fines. A person can be fined if they are convicted of intentional transmission of an STD.
- Restitution payments can be required as part of a sentence, and they compensate victims for their losses. These payments are in addition to court-imposed fines.
- Probation. Along with a prison or jail sentence, a court may sentence an individual to a probation term of up to three years.
Mandatory offender registration: A person convicted of intentional HIV transmission may have to sign up for the state registry for sexual offenders. Requirements vary by jurisdiction, but a person can remain on the registry for 25 years or more. A registrant may find it impossible to obtain work or housing, among other things.
It is not easy to answer the question of: “Can you sue someone for giving you an STD?” Every case is different, and there’s no easy way to arrive at a fair settlement amount when someone is intentionally infected. Consult a local injury attorney for help, legal advice and courtroom representation.