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Can You Sue Someone for Giving You an STD?

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Photo: Stephen J. Cohen / Getty

Usher is being sued by two women and a man for allegedly giving them herpes during a sexual encounter, according to their attorney Lisa Bloom in a press conference today. This comes after the singer reportedly paid a woman $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit in which she said he failed to warn her of his herpes status and gave her the incurable sexually transmitted disease in 2012. Whether or not the "U Got It Bad" singer is guilty or is just a victim of unfortunate song lyrics is up to the courts to decide—but this certainly won't be the last time you hear about a lawsuit like this.

"Lawsuits involving the transmission of STDs are more common than you think," says Keith Cutler, Esq., a trial attorney and one half of the married couple who preside as judges on Couples Court with the Cutlers. "We usually only hear about the cases involving celebrities, but plenty of non-celebrities file lawsuits when they learn they've been infected. This is a serious issue that affects both the famous and the non-famous."

Discovering you're infected with a sexually transmitted infection is an upsetting experience, but discovering the person who gave it to you knew they were infected and didn't tell you makes it that much worse. It's definitely a jerk move, but is failing to disclose an STD a criminal offense? It depends on the type of disease, says Dana Cutler, Esq., also a trial attorney and judge on Couples Court with the Cutlers.

"There are not any federal laws requiring a person to disclose if they have an STD," she says. "But there are state laws regarding telling sexual partners if you have certain STDs—typically HIV/AIDS or herpes because of the nature of those infections." (Read: They're incurable.)

In California, it's a felony for an individual who is HIV-positive to engage in unprotected sex, fail to tell their partner about their status, or engage in sex with the intent to infect their partner. If convicted, they can be punished by up to eight years in prison. Some other STDs have similar qualifications but with lesser punishments and fines.

Similarly, New York says an infected person has a duty to warn their sexual partners if they have any STD, with the understanding that STD status can be a deal-breaker in a hookup. Many other states have similar laws on the books and they've resulted in convictions. Plus, an infected person does not avoid criminal charges or civil liability just because their partner does not become infected; or because it was consensual sex; or because protection was used, Dana Cutler adds.

Even if it doesn't end up in a criminal conviction, knowingly transmitting an STD can result in a civil lawsuit, like the one Usher is facing. A civil case is typically based on negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, infliction of emotional distress, and battery, with damages being awarded based on the potential costs associated with the long-term care and treatment required by incurable illnesses like herpes, she says. An Oregon woman got $900,000 in 2012 after contracting herpes, an Iowa woman sued her ex and received a $1.5 million settlement, and a Canadian woman got a whopping $218 million after her boyfriend infected her.

If you find yourself in the terrible position of discovering your sexual partner has given you an STD, you wouldn't be alone: There are over 20 million new cases of STDs each year and over 400 million Americans already have herpes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But you have legal options. Your primary option is to file a civil lawsuit and seek monetary damages for your necessary medical expenses and for the emotional distress caused by the exposure, says Keith Cutler. And if you believe your partner intentionally or maliciously infected you, then you can also file a report with the police, he adds.

In the meantime, be sure to ask your partner his/her STD status (here's how to have that uncomfortable conversation) and use a condom every time you have sex. (Don't just take his word for it—half of men have never even been tested for STDs!)

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