Can You Sue for a Wrongful Death from HIV?

Categories: Wrongful Death


Wrongful Death Attorneys Helping Families of Loved Ones throughout Washington

HIV is a deadly immune system disease that affects millions each year. In fact, by the end of 2015, it was estimated that 36.7 million people were living with HIV in the world and 2.1 million were newly infected.

Estimates say that 240 people will become infected with HIV every hour, and already 35 million have died since the start of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. In the United States, 2.4 million are living with HIV, and 22,000 have died because of their illness.

When someone is infected unknowingly with HIV, family members may wonder if he or she can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible for the infection.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as a yes or no. These cases are highly complex. The circumstances surrounding the virus and what led to the death all play a role in determining if a wrongful death occurred, and the viability of a lawsuit.

Negligence and the Civil Liability Required

Suing for wrongful death or acquiring an infection means you must prove negligence. You must show that the person who infected you or your loved one knew that they were infected with HIV or AIDS. By failing to disclose their known infection status, that person breached their legal duty to act with caution. Therefore, the courts may consider that individual liable for the disease and injuries (or death) that occur after that infection.

The Court’s View on Duty to Disclose

A judge will almost always agree that a defendant has a legal obligation to disclose their status to a sexual partner. If the accused knows or reasonably should know about his or her STD status, then they cannot have sexual intercourse with a victim without disclosing that risk.

Sometimes the sexual partner is not only held liable in civil court but criminal courts as well.

The state of Washington makes it illegal to infect a partner if you know you have an STD. If you meant to cause harm or you were merely reckless, you could be held liable for both. Some states even charge attempted murder for such actions.

Is it Wrongful Death?

Determining if it amounts to wrongful death is where things become more complicated. While you could technically file a lawsuit against someone for damages and injuries caused by the infection, determining wrongful death is much more challenging.

For starters, a person is unlikely to die from their HIV infection immediately. Most people infected live with HIV for years and even have a healthy life expectancy today. The statute of limitations limits how long you have to file an injury claim, even for infection of an STD. Therefore, the time limit would most certainly pass long before someone died from that illness.

It is more likely that a person would file an injury lawsuit, instead of a wrongful death suit. In this case, the injury lawsuit would address any years taken away from the victim because of his or her infected status. For example, if the life expectancy of the victim is dramatically reduced, an attorney could seek compensation for the economic impact that reduction will have on the victim and his or her family.

What Damages are Available?

Damages in these types of cases depend on the extent and means of infection. If a person maliciously infected another, punitive damages might apply. Other times, these cases involve the traditional civil damages, like medical costs and the emotional distress a person suffers.

If a wrongful death case is applicable, funeral and burial costs could apply too. Furthermore, the wages and support the individual would have provided may be added into the settlement.

Speak with a Washington Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have suffered an injury and feel you qualify for compensation for your losses, talk with an attorney from Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC today. Schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys at 800-925-1875 or contact us online to get started.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.