Coronavirus Crimes: COVID-19 spread intentionally could land you behind bars or in a lawsuit in Florida
If you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and intentionally infect someone else - you may find yourself facing criminal charges or tangled in a lawsuit.
In reverse, this means: If you believe you’ve intentionally been infected with coronavirus - you may be able press criminal charges or sue the person responsible for exposing you to the virus which leads to COVID-19.
Coronavirus in Florida: Quick recap
COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in South Florida - while there are about 36 cases in Broward County right now, the county anticipates 800 more cases within the next two weeks. Shelves at most stores are emptied of food and toilet paper, a single can of spray lysol is running for more than $115 on Amazon, concerts and holiday events are cancelled, bars and restaurants closed and spring break in South Florida is “cancelled” with the closing of Fort Lauderdale and Miami beaches.
It’s important to be on high alert right now, and stay knowledgeable on how to prevent catching the virus and how to prevent the spread (scroll to the bottom for resources).
As a criminal defense law firm - we pose another question (and a warning):
What are the Criminal and Legal Consequences for Intentionally Infecting Someone with Coronavirus / COVID-19?
While, to our knowledge, there has not yet been an alleged intentional coronavirus infection case in a courtroom - other Florida laws and state-set precedents suggest facing criminal charges or getting sued is not a far-fetched reality.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and prosecutors are looking into charging people who knowingly expose others to 2019 Novel Coronavirus with crimes of some sort. This comes after a 70-something man boarded a JetBlue flight to Palm Beach March 11 without notifying anyone of his pending coronavirus test.
What criminal charges can you press if intentionally infected with Coronavirus?
While we hope this is a rare occurrence - we can say it is happening.
A man who tested positive for COVID-19 in a Japanese city after his parents contracted the virus, even though he was asymptomatic, went bar-hopping to spread the virus according to Independent. Another news network reported the man “decided to visit two bars in the small coastal city after telling a family member: ‘I am going to spread the virus’.”
Barstool Sports even has some choice words about the matter.
Man infected with coronavirus goes to bars ‘to spread the virus’ https://t.co/JKGBDDgXlV— The Independent (@Independent) March 7, 2020
Based on other Florida cases and Florida laws about intentionally spreading infections and disease…
We believe criminal charges could be pressed for those who intentionally spread the coronavirus or purposefully intend to give COVID-19 to another person.
Most of Florida’s laws related to spreading disease or illness are STI related (Sexually Transmitted Infection; formerly known as STD: Sexually Transmitted Disease). In Florida, if you engage in sexual activity knowing you have a venereal or sexually transmitted disease you can be charged with a crime.
Criminal transmission of STIs encompass many different infections to include HIV and other communicable and contagious sexually transmitted infections.
You can be convicted of criminal transmission of an STI in Florida if you knowingly, intentionally or recklessly cause someone else to be infected. For example, if you’re diagnosed with an STI and then engage in sexual relations with someone else without disclosing your infection or disease diagnosis, you can be convicted of a crime if the person is infected.
It would not be a stretch by legal means to see these same principles applied to the coronavirus, in the event COVID-19 is spread intentionally and deliberately.
If you are unaware of your STI status, however, you can’t be found guilty of this crime -- which would likely also ring true for coronavirus or any other illness. For a conviction of an STI crime, a prosecutor needs to prove you knew you had the disease and intentionally exposed someone to the danger. A prosecutor can also show that you knew, but were indifferent and engaged in reckless contact that engaged someone else, and this can also lead to a conviction.
More dramatically, “If someone knowingly and intentionally infected another to cause death, then attempted murder charges are a possibility.”
For Florida STI laws, it also may surprise you that pressing criminal charges is not dependent on the victim actually contracting the STI or sexually transmitted disease. Even if an infection or disease is not transmitted, the perpetrator can still be convicted of committing a crime.
Consequences of Intentionally infecting someone with an STI
(Hang with us, it makes the possible intentional spread of coronavirus consequences clear)
Engaging in sexual intercourse - while knowing you have a sexually transmitted disease or infection, and not informing your partner - is a crime of unlawful acts in Florida.
If you know you are infected with HIV and have sexual relations, you’ve committed a first-degree felony offense, according to STD resources for Florida criminal defense lawyers. If you have any other STI and have sexual relations, you commit a first-degree misdemeanor offense according to Florida STI Penalties Law.
When it comes to HIV, there is even another crime that can be tacked on to people already facing criminal charges; which could maybe be relevant to the coronavirus or COVID-19 as well.
Let’s say a man is charged with sexual battery for example, if he knows that he has HIV, he can additionally be charged with Criminal Transmission of HIV, which is a third-degree felony in Florida according to FL state statute 775.0877.
Intentional Coronavirus or COVID-19 Spread: Potential Legal Consequences in Florida
As coronavirus and COVID-19 would likely fall into the same category as STIs other than HIV (as it is not a lifelong illness), we suspect that if criminal charges were to be imposed for knowingly, purposefully or recklessly exposing people to coronavirus; it would likely be a first-degree misdemeanor.
In a situation similar to HIV, in which someone convicted of a crime also was a confirmed case of COVD-19, perhaps some form of ‘criminal transmission of coronavirus’ could be possible. If so, it would be more likely that the consequence would be a second-degree misdemeanor (rather than a felony, as with HIV). In Florida, the lowest criminal charge possible is a second-degree misdemeanor. A lower ‘charge’ would be something such as a noncriminal violation, as with most traffic and parking tickets.
Crimes Charged for People Spreading Communicable Diseases: Precedent
When it comes to HIV, prosecution for HIV exposure has even occurred under general criminal laws in Florida, according to the The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
In this 2009 Florida case, HIV was considered a deadly weapon under Florida’s general criminal laws.
“In August 2009, a 35-year-old man living with HIV in Florida was charged with attempted murder when he allegedly yelled that he had HIV and threatened to kill a police officer before biting him in the shin and leaving a permanent bruise,” according to the Center. “He was convicted of the lesser included offense of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence.”
In this case, the officer did not even test positive for HIV. And, some of the prosecutor’s statements ignored the fact that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “concluded there exists only a negligible risk of HIV infection from a bite,” said The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
In Iowa, a 1998 law said people found guilty of knowingly exposing others to HIV faced up to 25 years in prison and even had to register as sex offenders. The law required this even if a condom was used, and even if no one was infected, according to NPR. The accused had to be able to prove they disclosed their HIV status to their partner.
An Ohio case shows this is also true with other infections, such as Hepatitis C.
A 27-year-old man from Ohio was once sentenced to 18 months in prison for spitting at Cleveland police and medics. The man apparently spit saliva and blood repeatedly at the officers, according to NPR.
Why was he charged with a crime for spitting? Because he had hepatitis C.
“In Ohio, it's a felony for people who know they have HIV, viral hepatitis or tuberculosis to intentionally expose another person to their blood, semen, urine, feces or other bodily substances such as saliva with the intent to harass or threaten the person,” according to the article.
These stories, the legal precedent for being able to be charged with a crime for knowingly spreading diseases and infections in Florida, and the fact that some Florida law enforcement and prosecutors have confirmed they’re looking into pressing criminal charges for people who intentionally expose others to coronavirus makes Rossen Law Firm believe that criminal charges for intentionally spreading coronavirus are well within reach.
We believe the penalties for deliberately exposing others to coronavirus and COVID-19 would likely mirror those set for people who knowingly expose others to STIs without informing their partner of their status. Again, typically, the conviction of a first-degree misdemeanor entails consequences of up to one year in jail, and fines up to $1,000 in Florida.
Can You Sue Someone for Intentionally Infecting You with Coronavirus?
Even if pressing legal charges isn’t an option (now, or in the future), there are still ways to take action against people who intentionally infect or expose you to the coronavirus - including suing individuals responsible for your case of COVID-19.
In 2018, The Berman law Group, a Florida attorney office that handles personal injury cases, wrote a blog about being able to sue if someone made you sick.
As personal injury attorneys, they addressed a few questions including if and how you can sue someone for making you sick, which is a valid question today in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Basically, you can sue someone for spreading COVID-19 to you, but according to this blog about suing someone for making you sick, there are some “high hurdles” to clear.
You need to be able to prove that someone (or something, for that matter) was the cause of your illness and you also need to prove the person who infected you was either intentional or negligent.
With a virus like coronavirus that is all around, it might not be possible to prove someone gave it to you, but with a considerable amount of proof and evidence and depending on your personal situation - winning a lawsuit isn’t completely out of the question.
The Boca Raton law firm certainly feels strongly about being able to sue something that’s the cause of your illness -- because now it is actively suing the Chinese Government, according to several news reports.
You read that right.
On Friday, March 13, the Berman Law Group “filed a class action federal lawsuit against the People’s Republic of China and several other Chinese government entities, alleging they mishandled the outbreak of COVID-19,” according to CBS12. “According to the law group, the lawsuit accuses the Chinese government of failing to contain the virus and allowing it to spread globally, causing it to become a costly global pandemic.”
If you intentionally spread coronavirus, there is legal precedent that could very well establish an arrest and you could be charged with a misdemeanor, to put it succinctly.
In addition to criminal charges, you may also be the subject of a lawsuit. While likely very hard for the plaintiff to win, it is not impossible.
All in all: Be smart.
During this trying time in America - something that will surely end up in history books - let’s all try to be the best versions of ourselves. We’re all scared, we all have challenges, but let’s seek to work together instead of fighting against one another.
* Special note: our citation of the Boca Raton law firm, Berman Law Group, is in no way any endorsement or indicative of any relation to, or relationship with, the firm.