No one wants to get sick, but sometimes people with contagious diseases put their own needs above the needs of others and willingly expose other people to their sickness. But assuming we’re talking about something worse than the common cold, such as Covid-19 or HIV, this behavior is not only rude, it is also dangerous to the public health. That’s why many states, including California have laws stating it is illegal to intentionally infect someone with a disease.
California Law Against Infecting Others
While it is sometimes illegal to get another person sick in California, not everyone who has a contagious disease is breaking the law when they leave the house. First of all, while the law doesn’t specify what diseases are or aren’t covered, you won’t be charged for exposing people to a cold. If you have something more serious though -whether potentially deadly like whooping cough or coronavirus or incurable like herpes or HIV, you could be charged.
Additionally, while the law doesn’t specify situations in which it would be legal to expose someone, you’ll probably be ok if the exposure occurs at a hospital or pharmacy when you are trying to seek medical treatment for your condition because the spread must be reckless and the state would never want to criminalize the act of seeking care for a condition. Similarly, if you don’t yet know that you are infected with a virus because you have not yet started showing symptoms, your lack of knowledge would be a defense against any accidental transmission.
The Infection Need Not Be Intentional
While there is no question that it is illegal to purposely infect someone with a disease, that’s not the only time it is against the law to get someone ill. In fact, you do not need to actually infect someone else, but just knowingly putting someone at risk of catching your disease is a crime. So if you have an STD and have sex with a partner without protection and without telling him or her about your condition, you can still be charged with this crime even if he or she never catches the disease.
Additionally, if you decline to get tested to confirm that you have a specific condition, if you are aware that you have the symptoms of a communicable disease, you can still be charged for willingly exposing others. Even so, depending on your situation, your defense attorney could use a lack of knowledge of the disease or that the illness is contagious to argue that you did not break the law. This can be particularly problematic with something like coronavirus, where symptoms are so similar to a typical cold or flu, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging those with these types of symptoms to get tested to find out if they have the virus or not.
Penalties for Knowingly Exposing Someone to a Disease
These charges are normally very rare, but the state has been increasingly filing charges in these cases as a result of the pandemic. if you are charged with knowingly exposing another person to an infectious disease, you will face misdemeanor charges and could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Purposefully Infecting Someone With Coronavirus
If you have Covid-19 and are in the contagious phase, you could be liable under this law. The period of contagion appears to be fluid but if a doctor told you to quarantine or you will spread the disease, that should be sufficient warning.
It is worth adding that many people accused of knowingly exposing others to coronavirus are being charged with additional crimes, including battery and even terrorism as the risk of the coronavirus has led to lawmakers considering it to be a biological agent. Even threatening to infect someone, whether or not you actually have the disease can be considered assault or a criminal threat.
Because of the public health emergency is being taken so seriously by the police and government, if you purposefully gave someone covid-19 and it resulted in their death, it’s possible you could even face more serious charges such as mansalughter, possibly even murder. It’s difficult to say how this would actually turn out since these types of charges have not yet been filed.
Is Coughing on Someone A Crime?
Normally, spitting on someone is assault, but coughing on someone without explicitly saying you have an infectious disease or causing any actual harm would be unlikely to violate any criminal laws.
In fact, just coughing on someone is now often being charged as assault due to the public health threat of the Covid-19 outbreak. Of course, it is unlikely you will face criminal assault charges just for accidentally coughing on someone while clearing your throat in the grocery store.
But this isn’t just a theoretical situation. A woman in Santa Clara has actually had a warrant issued for her arrest after she was recorded on video coughing on an infant in a frozen yogurt store.
If you have been accused of knowingly exposing someone to an infectious disease or coughing on someone, please contact Peter M. Liss at (858) 486-3024 or (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.
Creative Commons Image by Jason Scragz