Public Health Law Watch
An initiative of the George Consortium

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Mere Exposure to STDs May Not Be Enough to Prove Damages in Usher Case

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

Three past sexual partners of entertainer Usher are now suing him for allegedly exposing them to genital herpes without their knowledge or consent.  But only one of the plaintiffs, named as Jane Doe, has actually contracted herpes.  A person with a communicable disease who “willfully exposes” another person can be charged with a misdemeanor in California, but this civil suit is instead claiming that Usher “has a duty to warn and [that] he is liable for exposure even if the other person is negative for herpes.”  The plaintiffs did not specify how much money they are seeking, but their attorney Lisa Bloom said that her clients want the 38-year-old actor/singer to “either contact his sexual partners if the diagnosis is true or make a public statement to put people’s mind at ease.”  In 2012, Usher paid $1.1 million to settle another lawsuit alleging he gave a woman herpes.

George Consortium member Scott Burris – law professor at Temple University and director of the Center for Public Health Law Research –  told the Huffington Post that proving damages for a plaintiff who has not actually contracted herpes will be challenging.  Unlike the costs of medical care, “emotional distress” is much more difficult to quantify.  Further, as Burris told us here at Public Health Law Watch, “Everyone who is having sex out in the world…is now potentially exposed to a sexually transmitted disease.  Courts should not be awarding large denomination damages to people who are running what is essentially a normal risk of everyday life.”