Getting or transmitting a sexually transmitted disease is not only a health matter; it could be a legal matter, too. Though laws vary greatly from state to state, most states have laws regarding the disclosure of health status, the transmission of STDs, and the handling of confidential medical information. Read on to find out more.
You may face criminal charges for passing an STD to someone else.
Compared to a civil case, a successful criminal case requires more substantial evidence. In many states, punishments include jail time and high fines.
You may face civil charges for passing an STD to someone else.
While criminal charges are usually concerned with punishing wrongdoing, civil charges are often focused on providing just compensation to someone who has been wronged. And that compensation can be big. An Oregon woman sued a former sexual partner for giving her herpes and won $900,000. In the civil suit, her partner was found 75 percent negligent (she was found 25 percent negligent) and was found to have committed battery.
Related: Can you get sued for an STD?
Another woman sued her former partner for giving her HPV that led to genital warts and cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. She won and was awarded $1.5 million. And that’s just peanuts compared to the supposed $52 million settlement a woman received after she claimed that her former partner, the boss of the real-life “Wolf of Wall Street,” gave her chlamydia that made her infertile.
You can be charged if you transmitted an STD and knew you were infected.
In many states, like Washington State, knowing you have an STD and infecting a partner is illegal. Many states have different charges depending on whether the transmission was intentional—i.e., you meant to do someone harm—versus reckless—i.e., you didn’t think about it, or it happened anyway. In states like New Jersey, you can be charged with attempted murder if you know you’re HIV positive and attempt to infect someone intentionally.
Even if you didn’t actually transmit the infection, you may still be charged.
In some states, like Alabama and Tennessee, you can be charged for engaging in sexual activity while knowing you are infected, even if that sexual contact does not result in transmission.
Even if the sex was consensual, you can be sued.
In most states, infected partners who transmitted a disease are legally protected if, prior to sexual contact, they informed their partner of their health status and their partner consented. But two states, Kansas and Washington, do not explicitly state that defense.
Even if you used protection, you can be sued.
A man in Iowa was sentenced to 25 years for transmitting HIV even though he used protection. The Supreme Court of Iowa has since tossed out the sentence.
HIV is often treated as a special case.
Transmitting HIV to someone is considered a serious offense in the eyes of the law, and many states’ laws reflect the difference between HIV and other STDs. Some states have even handed out prison sentences for failure to disclose HIV status to a sexual partner.
HIV can also be transmitted through other means, and in some states, like California and Iowa, it’s a felony to donate blood, tissues, and organs if you know you are HIV positive.
In the past, an HIV-positive status could be a bar to immigration, but that isn’t the case anymore.
For over 15 years, foreign nationals could be denied visas or permanent residence status in the United States if they were HIV positive. The law was changed in 2009, and HIV-positive status is no longer a bar to entry.
Doctors can be sued for revealing that someone has an STD.
Multiple cases arose in Wisconsin over doctors revealing someone’s HIV-positive status, which constitutes a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, but that’s not the only situation in which a doctor can be sued. Interestingly, a woman in New York sued a doctor for telling her she was HIV positive because she hadn’t consented to testing and didn’t want to know.
Institutions can be sued for transmitting STDs.
Johns Hopkins was recently named in an 800-plaintiff, $1 billion lawsuit over its alleged intentional infection of Guatemalans with STDs during studies that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s.
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