Can You Sue a Partner Who Knowingly Infected You with an STD?

If a sexual partner had knowledge of his/her STD and infected you, he or she may be liable for damages in a civil lawsuit.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you have been infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the sexual partner who infected you. And in rare cases, even if you were not actually infected, you still may be able to hold the other person liable for the emotional trauma caused by the threat of exposure.

There are a number of different legal theories that you may be able to rely on in bringing a civil lawsuit for STD infection. The right legal theory will depend on the circumstances of your situation, but two of the most common theories are negligence and civil battery.


In a negligence claim, you will need to prove that the other person knew (or should reasonably have known) that he or she was infected with an STD, and that by failing to disclose this information, he or she breached a legal obligation to act with reasonable caution and care.

Civil Battery

In a civil battery lawsuit, you are essentially alleging that the defendant's actions -- not in engaging in sexual intercourse, but by knowingly exposing you to an STD -- amount to intentional and unconsented-to harmful contact.

Your Damages

In a civil lawsuit for infection with or exposure to an STD, remember that you are asking for monetary compensation for the resulting harm -- including the costs of your medical treatment and your emotional distress over the situation. What a civil lawsuit does not do is punish the person who infected you, at least not in terms of criminal sanctions.

Criminal Consequences

So, what about criminal laws on the transmission of STDs? The person who infected you may also be subject to prosecution under your state's criminal laws. But even in states where the knowing transmission of an STD can be deemed a crime, you will need to prove more than that the person had knowledge of his or her HIV-positive status and intended to have sexual intercourse with you. See this state chart for specific criminal penalties (opens in a new window).

In most states, you need to prove that the defendant had the specific intent to infect you. That can be a tough burden to meet, which is why criminal convictions under these kinds of laws are pretty rare.

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