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Lawsuits for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are brought where there is, at minimum, evidence of intentional exposure. These laws allow injured parties to recover damages from partners who knowingly exposed a partner to an STD, including HIV/AIDS, without the plaintiff's knowledge or consent.
In addition to civil penalties, those who knowingly and intentionally expose others to STDs may face criminal charges in certain states. California is one of those states that include both civil and criminal penalties.
California's Health and Safety Code Sections provide that anyone afflicted with a contagious, infectious or communicable disease who willfully exposes another person to the disease is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Additionally, any person who knows he or she has HIV and engages in unprotected sexual activity with another and "acts with the specific intent to infect the other person with HIV" is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for three, five or eight years. The key here is that evidence that the person had knowledge of his or her HIV-positive status is insufficient to obtain a conviction. You must prove that the defendant had the specific intent to infect the other person. That can be a tough burden to meet, which is why criminal convictions under this law are pretty rare.
A party infected with a sexually transmitted disease may bring a civil suit in California under tort law, which includes civil actions for battery, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. In most of these cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant knew or should reasonably have known that his or her actions were likely to result in transmission of an STD.
As with all civil actions, the plaintiff must file within the statute of limitations period, which runs from the time the plaintiff discovers the injury. In California, the statute of limitations depends on the legal theory that the plaintiff is pursuing.
If the plaintiff asserts fraud, the statute of limitations is three years. Intentional infliction of emotional distress and/or negligence would be included under personal injury actions, which require that a lawsuit be filed within two years.
by: David Goguen, J.D.
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