SAN FRANCISCO -- One sexual partner may be able to sue another for passing on the AIDS virus if the infected partner "had reason to know" that he or she was carrying the disease, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.Source
State laws already make it a crime to transmit the disease knowingly.
The court's 4-3 decision means some people who do so without knowing they're infected may now be held liable for monetary damages.
And, despite California laws protecting the privacy of people infected with HIV, they may be forced to reveal extensive medical data and information about their sexual histories, though not the identities of other sexual partners.
Writing for the court's majority, Justice Marvin Baxter cited society's "overriding policy of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases."
The ruling came in the case of a married couple and might not apply to a suit based on a casual sexual encounter.
Judges have traditionally tried to balance privacy and the need to compensate injured individuals, said Lawrence C. Levine, who teaches civil liability law at McGeorge Pacific School of Law in Sacramento.
Monday's decision, he said, marks "a reluctant though unmistakable step toward increased judicial intervention in private sexual conduct."
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation declined to comment until its lawyers reviewed the opinion from legal and public health points of view.
The impact is unlikely to be clear for many years. The court said each case must be evaluated considering factors such as the relationship between the partners and whether one lied to convince the other to have unprotected sex.
In Monday's case the justices ruled largely in favor of Bridget B., who is suing her husband, John B. Each acknowledges being HIV-positive but contends the other brought AIDS into their brief marriage.
Both spouses tested positive in October 2000, two years after they met and just three months after they married.