Court allows lawsuit against partner who allegedly transmitted
Ilustration courtesy National
Library of Medicine
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
July 3, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The California Supreme Court ruled
today that the spouse or partner of a person who has been infected
with AIDS can be sued for failing to disclose that the partner
had good reason to believe he or she had the disease.
The court issued its ruling in San Francisco in the case of a
divorced husband and wife, both of whom have AIDS.
The former spouses, identified as John B. and Bridget B., each
say the other caused the infection.
The case before the court was a civil lawsuit in which Bridget
claims that John failed to disclose before their marriage in 2000
that he had numerous sexual relationships with men and therefore
knew or should have known he had HIV.
A state law makes it a crime punishable by up to eight years
in prison to knowingly infect another person with AIDS.
Today's high court ruling applies to civil as opposed to criminal
cases and extends liability not only to partners who know they
have AIDS but also to those who reasonably should have known they
Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, "Society has an overriding
policy of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases."
Baxter wrote that the policy "would be enhanced by imposing
a duty of care on those who have reason to know they are infected
The ruling on liability was made by a four-member majority of
the court. Justice Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno dissented,
with Moreno writing that the decision could result "in a
spate of 'shakedown' or vengeance lawsuits" in which plaintiffs
seek to harass former sexual partners.
None of the allegations in Bridget B.'s lawsuit have been proved.
The court sent the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court for
The court majority said that because John B. had a negative AIDS
test in August of 2000, Bridget was entitled to seek information
about his medical records and sexual activity for six months before
that. The court also said that if she successfully challenged
the validity of the AIDS test, she could seek information about
John's earlier sexual partners.
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