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When infection spreads, what are the legal implications?

The most recent Ebola crisis has been the most widespread in history. Never before has this particular virus claimed the lives of so many individuals and across so many continents. It is therefore of little wonder that the crisis has sparked a debate about the ethics of both preventing and spreading infection.

Most of the time, the spread of infection is not an event that individuals may be held legally accountable for. If someone ill sneezes near you or uses a doorknob after coughing into his or her hands, that individual’s behaviors are not legally actionable, even if you get sick as a result of them. However, there are instances in which the spread of life-threatening infections are legally actionable. The difference between actionable and non-actionable spread of infection incidents is context.

For example, it is generally considered a crime to knowingly transmit serious sexually transmitted diseases to a partner who has not been alerted to the presence of the disease. In addition, when a patient is harmed by a serious infection as a result of negligent or reckless hospital conditions or healthcare provider behaviors, this treatment may be considered medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one has been seriously harmed by an infection and you believe that a medical professional or healthcare facility may have negligently or recklessly caused the spread of that infection, please do not hesitate to speak to an attorney about your legal options. Not every infection-related case is actionable, but yours very well may be.

Source: New York Times, “The Ethics of Infection,” Kate Murphy, Nov. 8, 2014

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