Can you sue for an STD in California?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) can be life-changing. When you find out you have contracted a disease from someone you had sexual contact with, it affects you in several different ways. You may be sick, develop symptoms and feel the physical repercussions which may even include death. There are also deep emotional issues that come with a sexually contracted disease. Sex is an emotional action and it can be very traumatic to think the person you love has given you a disease. In the instance of noncommittal sex, it can be just as emotionally traumatic. These particular types of diseases have serious and long-lasting effects on the human body. They can cause death, disfigurement, sterilization, and life-long pain.

In California, there are circumstances where you can sue the person who infected you with a sexually transmitted disease. There are even rare cases in which you can sue and not have been infected. A threat of exposure can be grounds for a civil lawsuit. There are several different California legal theories that you may be able to rely on, if you are considering suing someone in relation to a sexually transmitted disease. The two most common used in these suits is civil battery and negligence. The theory you choose for you suit will depend on personal circumstances.

Civil Battery and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Civil battery in a sexually transmitted disease case alleges that the person transmitting the STD knowingly exposed another person to an STD which amounts to intentional, unconsented harmful contact. If your infected partner fails to inform you, it is presumed your consent would not have happened and is nullified. The law here requires only that the defendant wanted to have sex without notification, not to infect.

Negligence and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Negligence in a sexually transmitted diseases case means that the person transmitting the disease knew her or she had the disease, or reasonably should have known. Failing to disclose the information of infection breaches their obligation to act with reasonable care which we are all held responsible to do legally. A jury or judge must believe a reasonable person would not have had sex without prior notification of partner to the risk of contracting an STD. Negligence requires no intent, so even if a condom was used, your partner can be held responsible for STD-related damages.

Damages and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

As with any civil lawsuit, damages are the monetary amounts you ask for in compensation for the resulting harm of the STD infection or exposure. This can include all related medical treatment as well as emotional distress as a result of the situation. Civil lawsuits do not punish the person who caused he infection with any criminal sanctions.

Criminal Consequences and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

People who knowingly infect others with a sexually transmitted disease in California can be subject to prosecution under criminal law. It can be difficult to prove what is required in these cases. There has to be more than the knowledge of his or her STD status and intent to have sex. There also has to be proof that there was an intent to infect. California has enacted specific laws that make STD-related crimes their own set of crimes.

Penalties can be enhanced in other crimes if committed while infected with an STD. Crimes such as prostitution and rape can carry additional penalties if the defendant has an STD and is aware of it.  A sexual offense sentence can be enhanced with the addition of three full years to a prison term. A defendant sentenced to 14 years for oral copulation will instead receive 17 years if he has HIV and knows it. As such, a person knowingly carrying an STD who prostitutes is in danger of receiving a sentence equal to that of someone who is on their second prostitution arrest. The court looks at an HIV carrying prostitute as already having committed the crime previously and punishes them accordingly, regardless of a lack of previous record.

Willful Exposure

In California, the crime of willful exposure is a misdemeanor. It occurs when someone with an STD knowingly exposes his or her self to others. It can also occur if someone exposes another person with a disease to other people knowingly. (California Health and Safety Code section 120290.)

Donating Blood and Tissue

California Health and Safety Code section 1621.5 makes it a felony criminal offense to donate blood, breast mild, tissue, bone marrow, semen or any bodily product when you are aware you carry HIV.


California deems it a criminal offense to engage in sex while knowingly aware you carry HIV. Doing so with the intent to infect someone else is a felony offense in California.

Legal Defenses

There are a few legal defenses for people who are charged with this type of crime. The most beneficial is ignorance of the STD infection. Not knowing you are infected with an STD is an effective defense. You cannot be convicted of an STD crime in California if you did not know you were infected. Another way around these charges is intent. Prosecutors must prove the infected person had a specific intent to infect someone else. No person can be convicted of this crime if they provide a defense that proves no intent was present.


Crimes of this nature carry a variety of penalties. A risk of significant jail time exists when convicted of an STD crime in California. A felony STD offense can net 3 – 8 years in state prison. A misdemeanor can net up to a year in county jail. Substantial fees and fines are also possible. Misdemeanor fines can be as much as $1000 with felony fines shooting way beyond that. Probation is another possible penalty. Probation for STD crimes can be anywhere from 1 to 5 years. Restitution costs can be made a part of an STD sentence. Restitution payments go to any victims to reimburse them for the losses they have incurred as a result of an STD. They can differ broadly among cases. Restitution is paid in addition to any fines imposed by the court.

Contact Information