Karen went to the doctor for flu like symptoms. Her doctor suspected that Karen might have COVID-19 and swabbed her for the virus. Karen was told to stay at home and avoid being around others until the results from the test came back. Karen then attended a work function. Five days later, Karen’s test came back positive for COVID-19.
Could someone be charged with a crime for exposing other people to COVID-19?
Government officials have not yet indicated whether a person will be held liable for spreading COVID-19 around. However, there are laws currently in place for this type of situation.
Specifically, in Washington state, if you willfully expose another person with a contagious disease, it is considered a misdemeanor with a maximum of 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine. RCW 70.54.050.
So what does willfully mean? A person has acted willfully if he or she has knowledge of a fact or has information that would lead a reasonable person in those circumstances to believe that a fact exists. RCW 9A.08.010.
In Karen’s case, if there is enough evidence to support that she knew she had a contagious disease, or if she was aware of enough facts to support a reasonable person to conclude that she had a contagious disease, she could be charged with a crime.
Most states have similar provisions to WA. To date, there have not been any criminal cases filed for spreading COVID-19 in Washington.
What about other countries?
Other countries have similar laws in place for these types of situations. Some have a much stricter approach.
- In Italy a man is facing 12 years in prison for hiding his COVID-19 so he could get elective rhinoplasty. Multiple doctors and nurses were infected.
- Saudi Arabia will fine an incoming traveler without correct health information $133,000.
- Romania has recently introduced a new law that would make it a crime for an infected person to not disclose a complete list of whom he or she came in contact with.
With how quickly this virus is spreading, enforcing this type of law for COVID-19 may be difficult. However, there are other laws in place that can be relied upon to help stop the spread. The CDC says most states regard breaking a quarantine order as a criminal misdemeanor. We recently discussed the criminal implications of breaking the governor’s order to stay-at-home.
We are open and ready to help!
At Peak Justice Criminal Defense, your safety is our priority. We are here to support you during this COVID- 19 outbreak. If you need legal assistance, we are currently offering free consultations by phone. Give us a call at (425) 747-0582.
The sooner you call, the faster we can help!