When a Partner Gives You Herpes (cont.)
Leleux packed her bags and moved to another state, marrying a man who knew her history and was willing to contract herpes from her (which he promptly did).
Meanwhile, Domingue was left to ponder a sad truth: While it can take no more than a single night of sex to contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD), trying to collect damages for the hurt that follows can be a legal nightmare.
A Search for Justice
Complex questions, from science to social values, cause many civil cases to fall apart, though people who intentionally infect others are often successfully prosecuted under criminal law.
In fact, civil lawsuits involving people who unwittingly contract genital herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other maladies during sex have failed to generate the kind of multimillion-dollar jury awards that attorneys envisioned in the early 1980s, when the number of STD cases nationwide began to explode.
"Even if you are successful," says Domingue, "you will never see justice done. Even if you manage to find a deep pocket, money is such a sad, inadequate remedy for a horrible violation of trust."
Personal-injury lawyer Stewart Perry of Minneapolis, who filed one of the first STD lawsuits 15 years ago, levels with would-be clients who want to pursue a sexual partner.
"When people say, 'I want to do something,' I say, 'You have a case, but do you want to pay for the fees and costs?' The answer is, 'I'll let you know,' " says Perry. "And they never call back."
Four Reasons Why Civil Cases Crumble
Why are civil cases involving STDs so difficult to litigate? Lawyers cite these reasons: