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California Reduces Punishment for HIV Exposure

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In our post on the basics of tort law published on Oct. 2, we briefly mentioned unwanted physical touching as one example of wrongful behavior. Somewhat related is unwanted STDs, so to speak, and on that note, CNN reports that California has lowered the penalty for knowingly exposing someone to HIV. Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 239 on Oct. 6 and the bill will become law in 2018.

Senate Bill 239: From a Felony to a Misdemeanor

In a move that essentially mirrors a shift in attitude toward people who are HIV-positive - largely because of advances in medicine that have reduced the danger of the disease - California will now punish knowingly exposing a partner to HIV as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.

CNN quotes Sen. Scott Wiener:

"The most effective way to reduce HIV infections is to de-stigmatize HIV. To make people comfortable talking about their infection, get tested, get into treatment."

The bill, however, did not have complete bipartisan support. As CNN reports, Sen. Joel Anderson voted against SB 239. Anderson said, "The critical word in this is 'intentionally.' When you intentionally put others at risk, you should have responsibility."

Civil Liability for STD Transmission

SB 239 addresses criminal law, but there is precedent in tort law in cases that arose out of the same type of behavior, in which one partner transmits an STD to his or her partner (as opposed to the crime of exposure). The law certainly isn't settled on this when it comes to HIV, but in general, people who are HIV-positive have the duty to warn their sexual partners of their status.

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