Court Hears Arguments in HIV-Related Liability Case
The California Supreme Court on Tuesday "appeared ... to favor holding people responsible for failing to disclose" to a new partner previous, unprotected sexual contact that resulted in exposure to HIV, the Los Angeles Times reports (Dolan, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).
The court is hearing a case in which a woman, who first started experiencing fevers and exhaustion in September 2000, claims her husband tested positive for HIV in October 2000 but did not tell her until November 2001 that he had sex with men before they were married in July 2000 (California Healthline, 4/4).
The defendant's lawyer argued that a person should be liable for disclosing a disease only if there is reason to suspect infection, such as symptoms of the disease or a medical opinion. A sexual encounter is not means for disclosure because transmission rates for HIV are relatively low, the lawyer said (Los Angeles Times, 4/5).
However, the plaintiff's lawyer argued that people should be required to disclose all past "high-risk behavior."
Justice Ming Chin said that limiting liability only to those who know they are infected would "encourage willful ignorance" and provide an excuse for those who should have known they were infected.
Justice Carol Corrigan also noted that a person's risk for contracting HIV is increased when one partner has been exposed to the disease.
However, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said she was concerned about possible privacy rights violations in the context of a lawsuit (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
Chief Justice Ronald George asked, "What's the burden [of disclosure] when we weigh it against the possible benefits?" George added that the court must remain mindful of privacy rights in such instances (Los Angeles Times, 4/5).
A ruling is due within 90 days (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).