Charlie Sheen: What Legal and Career Issues He May Face After HIV Disclosure

Charlie Sheen HIV Today
Courtesy of NBC

Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he is HIV-positive puts back in the spotlight not just legal ramifications for the actor and his career, but the continued stigma faced by those who have the status.

On NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday, Sheen said that he had been blackmailed for “millions” to those who have threatened to expose his status, after being diagnosed four years ago. In an open letter posted on the “Today” website, Sheen wrote that “I always lead with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition.” He told Matt Lauer that he told his sexual partners ahead of time that he was HIV positive. “Yes I have…. No exceptions,” he said.

People with HIV live normal, healthy lives, and it’s the reaction to Sheen’s status that is most telling to longtime advocates of HIV issues.

“Just the fact that there were people who could try to blackmail him about his status speaks to the fact that we haven’t come as far as we need to in eliminating the stigma, and that the fear is still with us in a very palpable way,” said Allison Nichol, co-director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York.

She said Sheen’s disclosure may help better inform the American public not just on prevention, but on the nature of HIV transmission.

Sheen’s doctor, Robert Huizenga, clinical associate professor of medicine at UCLA, said that Sheen’s viral load remained “consistently undetectable” and told Lauer that “individuals who are optimally treated, who have undetected viral loads and who responsibly use protection…it’s incredibly rare to transmit the virus.”

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said that he had no personal knowledge of Sheen’s circumstances but “if he is in treatment and the virus is undetectable, there is a very, very small likelihood that he would pass the virus. The highest likelihood came before he knew he was HIV positive.”

Still, when Lauer asked Sheen whether he expected lawsuits, Sheen said, “I’m sure that’s next.” He told Lauer that he so far has faced “threats of revealing my condition,” not “for any contamination or transference.” Sheen’s attorney, Martin Singer, referred calls to Sheen’s publicist, Larry Solters, who declined comment.

Whether any of the plaintiffs would have a claim depends on the circumstances, led by the question of whether Sheen disclosed his HIV status before engaging in sexual activity. Sheen insists he did. According to the Associated Press, Bree Olson, one of his girlfriends what was living with Sheen in 2011, said on Howard Stern’s radio show on Tuesday, “He never said anything to me.” She said she learned only in the past few days, and has since tested negative.

Since 1998, it has been a felony in California to expose another to HIV by engaging in unprotected sexual activity, but that person has to know that he or she is infected, fails to disclose his or her status and acts with the “specific intent” to infect another person, said Ayako Miyashita, director of the L.A. HIV Law & Policy Project at UCLA. The issue of intent is not an easy thing to prove, and prosecutions have been relatively low in the state, according to legal experts.

There are ample cases, however, of civil lawsuits against individuals for exposing or transmitting a sexual partner to HIV or another type of sexually transmitted disease, in a negligence, battery  or fraud claim. In some cases, plaintiffs have sought claims of emotional distress over the fear that they have been infected after exposure.

Palm Springs attorney Shaun Murphy represented a woman who won a $6.7 million verdict against an ex-boyfriend she accused of intentionally and negligently infecting her with herpes. He said that primary issues in civil litigation are whether a person knows or has reason to know if he or she is infected, and then whether they disclosed that fact to a sexual partner.

Mere claims of emotional distress over the fear of being exposed to HIV are limited once a test shows comes out negative, he said. “What the dollar value of that is worth, I don’t know,” he said. “It may have a greater settlement value than a dollar value.”

As for Sheen’s career, he told “Today” that he doubts it will have an impact. State and federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, is pretty clear that discrimination includes a refusal to hire someone because of their HIV status, or even to ask about it in a job interview. When it comes to such things as cast insurance for a production, an insurer would look at HIV status “as they would look at any other ailment,” says Christie Mattull, managing director for insurance brokerage HUB Entertainment Industry Solutions.

An issue would arise if they are not being treated or taking their treatments, just as they would if someone who suffers from high blood pressure were not taking medication, she said.

As Huizenga said on “Today,” there has been a concern over Sheen if he “was overly depressed, if he was abusing substance, [that] he would forget these pills, and that’s been an incredible worry.”

Sheen’s successful career has been marked by a life of hard living, admitted hiring of prostitutes and substance abuse and, four years ago, a highly publicized feud with “Two and Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre that got him fired from the show. His last series, FX’s “Anger Management,” was canceled in 2014.

Weinstein said that “if you are worried about Charlie Sheen’s performance, I think HIV would be way down on that list. People are living long and healthy lives with HIV, and there are numerous people in the entertainment industry who are HIV positive.”

Sheen’s announcement could be a “wake up call,” he said. “I think people have been complacent about HIV because it is a treatable illness.”




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  1. Poor they’re going to be making his life miserable when he needs kindness.he has a bad problem CRACK addiction. HE NEEDS to address that serious problem.Love yourself.The hell with the phony fakes of people.

  2. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    People with HIV/AIDS are not required for the most part to disclose it to past and present sexual partner(s) thanks to the gay lobby.

  3. bbelemjian says:

    Actor, Charlie Sheen, has recently disclosed to the public that he has been HIV positive for the past four years. According to Ted Johnson of Variety, “On NBC’s ‘Today’ on Tuesday, Sheen said that he had been blackmailed for ‘millions’ to those who have threatened to expose his status, after being diagnosed four years ago. In an open letter posted on the ‘Today’ website, Sheen wrote that ‘I always lead with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition.’ He told Matt Lauer that he told his sexual partners ahead of time that he was HIV positive. ‘Yes I have…. No exceptions,’ he said.” Although Sheen claims that he has always been honest with his partners, many of them have come out and claimed the exact opposite.

    The disclosure of contagious diseases is a complicated legal matter. If there is no hard evidence of one party disclosing their condition to another, it becomes a matter of he-said-she-said. However, looking at Sheen’s track record, it is not hard to believe that he would be dishonest with people in order to have sex with them.

  4. Lisa says:

    In an article about this yesterday, it claimed Sheen knew he had HIV and still had unprotected sex. Bottom line, he’s a selfish maniac who only cares about his immediate wants even if it kills another person.
    The prospect of a faltering career is the least of his worries.

  5. Mike says:

    If anyone is claiming damages for having been infected, they will have to do 2 things;
    1. Show that it is an identical strain of virus to that which Charlie Sheen has (by detailed sequence analysis), and then
    2. Show that he gave it to her, and not the other way round.

    • Shaun says:

      Mike, I do not know where you got your information but that is not what is required to prevail on a claim for transmitting HIV. There is no “same strain” requirement.

  6. Keira says:

    I’m sure he has the best crisis management team money can buy so I expect all legitimate claims to be quickly burried. Charlie picked women in the sex industry precisely for the same reason that Jack The Ripper did. Society views them as disposable scum, he can infect a thousand of them and his fans would still think “he is some kind of victim”. Gross.

    • Lisa says:

      The best crisis management team still can’t take away his infection or those of others. Even if the legitimate claims are buried, people will die from his actions, including himself. That is the real truth, something Sheen seems to be in denial about.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Johnny C. Wadd Holmes continued to work in porn, while not disclosing tha the had AIDS.

  7. There will be women coming forward with lawsuits, but there is a lot to prove.
    Some may be phony and never knew Charlie Sheen.
    Stay tuned.
    As for his career, well, if he focuses on health and gets his act together, then he can be on top of the world.
    Time to get serious.

    George Vreeland Hill

    • Lisa says:

      It’s not like he hasn’t laid most the ground work himself for the women who are legitimately infected by him. No judge will not take that into account.

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