The Zika virus is an unusual, harmful disease that first broke out in South America and has now spread into the United States. There have been reports of the Zika virus in every state (except for Alaska). Some of these states that have seen more than 100 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, including Florida, New York, Texas, and (yes) California. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 800 pregnant women in the United States are believed to have the Zika virus. Most people who have heard of the Zika virus know that it can be transmitted through mosquitos and has been linked to microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in children.
Who is Responsible if I am Infected with Zika?
When we become ill, such as when we catch a cold or are stricken by the flu, we do not usually consider who is legally responsible for making us ill. In many cases, we conclude that we caught whatever illness we have because of being in proximity to an ill child or a sick coworker. Under California’s worker’s compensation law, though, becoming ill while “on the job” entitles you to worker’s compensation benefits. Supposing you were an arborist or groundskeeper and, while working, you were bitten by a mosquito and thereafter contracted the Zika virus, your medical expenses and lost wages would likely be covered under the state’s worker’s compensation laws.
Take this scenario one step further, however: What if the infected groundskeeper or arborist learned he or she had the Zika virus and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with another person. Would this other person be able to recover compensation for his or her medical expenses and losses if he or she thereafter contracted the Zika virus (Zika can be spread through sexual intercourse as well)? Perhaps so.
Recall that every person owes every other individual a “duty of care” to behave in a reasonable manner: knowingly exposing another person to a contagious disease, especially one that can result in serious complications, would almost certainly qualify as an unreasonable act. The newly-infected sexual partner and plaintiff would need to overcome two hurdles before he or she can obtain compensation through a personal injury lawsuit:
- The plaintiff would need to establish that he or she contracted the Zika virus through sexual intercourse with the other person and not through a mosquito bite or some other means; and
- The plaintiff suffered some economic or noneconomic loss (such as pain and suffering, medical bills, time missed from work, or other similar losses).
Therefore, while compensation may be available it may not be easy to obtain. If you believe you may be developing signs of the Zika virus or other serious illness that can result in serious losses to you, it may be helpful to make a list of the places you have been, people with whom you have been intimate, and other activities in which you engaged for the previous one to two weeks and visit with your doctor. This information can not only help your doctor identify your condition and what caused it, but it can be helpful if you need to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.
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(image courtesy of CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith)