More parents than ever are not vaccinating their children against common childhood diseases, citing both religious and medical reasons. But that choice not to vaccinate could make those parents liable if their unvaccinated child makes someone else sick.
This may sound like a remote possibility but there is already a relevant law on the books.
Courts have punished people for spreading STDs without notifying their sex partner and in the past we're punished people who spread infectious diseases that should be quarantined. It's not a big jump to extend that law to people who fail to get vaccinated.
Spreading a disease to someone when you could have prevented it is a personal injury or tort claim called negligent transmission of an infectious disease.
It punishes people who could have prevented the spread of a disease but failed to take proper precautions against it. In modern times it's most often used against people who spread an STD to a partner without warning the person about the risk of infection.
But the claim has a long history of being used for infectious diseases. It was used to punish people who spread whooping cough, tuberculosis, and smallpox to others.
The way vaccinations work is through building 'herd immunity' or 'community immunity.' Once a certain percentage of the population is protected it works to protect even the members of the community who aren't vaccinated, according to the CDC.
When enough parents choose not to vaccinate their children, that puts herd immunity at risk. Scientists suspect that is part of what happened in the whooping cough outbreak earlier this year.
It's possible too many parents had opted out of vaccinating their children which allowed the disease to spread, reports The New York Times.
If vaccinated children got sick and were permanently harmed or killed it's not a stretch to think that their parents could use parents of unvaccinated children who also got sick and potentially spread the disease.
Proof in those situations is difficult since the parent must prove where the infection came from. But it does open up the possibility that parents who aren't vaccinating their children could be liable. Just another factor to consider when making your decisions.
- A pox on your bank account: failure to vaccinate and its legal consequences (Science-Based Medicine)
- Can You Sue for Getting an STD? (FindLaw's Injured)
- Grandparent Custody Wrinkle: New Grandparents Vaccines (The Houston Family Law Blog)