Charlie Sheen’s Coming Legal Woes From HIV Disclosure May Surprise You

Actor faces little risk of criminal prosecution, legal experts tell TheWrap, and even civil lawsuits seem “unlikely to prevail” given the facts currently known

Last Updated: November 19, 2015 @ 12:09 PM

Charlie Sheen‘s revelation on Tuesday that he was diagnosed as HIV-positive four years ago is likely a load off of the actor’s shoulders.

Legally, however, the admission would seem to open a whole new can of worms. Already, half a dozen women are reportedly preparing to sue the former “Two and a Half Men” star.

With Sheen’s status out in the open but his legal liabilities still up in the air, TheWrap spoke to legal experts to determine what kind of fallout the actor might be facing.

The verdict? While attorneys will likely be racking up billable hours launching lawsuits against Sheen, the likelihood of the actor facing major legal trouble is slimmer than one might expect.

In terms of criminal charges, Sheen faces a limited threat. While most states have laws against intentionally exposing another person to HIV, California is particularly favorable to the accused.

“[California’s law] is really looking to get at those very, very blameworthy cases of intentional transmission,” Michelle Mello, professor of law and health research and policy at Stanford University, told TheWrap. “Unless the person had the specific intent to infect another person, the requirements for the crime are not met.”

“That would be a barrier to prosecution,” added criminal defense attorney Deborah J. Blum. “It’s very difficult to prove that he would have an intent to pass along HIV.”

The civil arena is another matter. Sheen could be sued for either exposing or transmitting the virus to another person, but the plaintiff would face a number of hurdles to prevail in court.

In the case of mere exposure to the virus, Mello said, a person could claim infliction of emotional distress. In the case of Sheen, who’s insisted he has been scrupulous to avoid infecting others, the claim would likely be negligent, rather than intentional, infliction of emotional distress.

But Mello said the plaintiff would have to present persuasive evidence to prove significant damages.

“It would depend a lot on the facts of the case,” Mello said. “How long were they in fear of developing the disease? How real was that fear? They would have to provide evidence they really were worried, and typically it has to be evidence like, ‘I saw a mental health provider’ or ‘I had to get on medication’ or some actual manifestation of this emotional distress.”

With the facts currently known for Sheen, Mello said, “It doesn’t appear that either negligent or intentional exposure… is in play here.”

If one of Sheen’s sexual partners did get infected with HIV and that could be traced back to Sheen or negligence on his part, Mello said, the potential damages could be significant.

“What we’re talking about is the cost of taking care of someone who has HIV, the medical care costs, estimated loss of past and future income, other economic losses” and some amount for pain and suffering, Mello said. “It’s unlikely that [any plaintiffs filing against Sheen] would prevail before a jury, based upon what we’ve been told.”

Blum said that if any plaintiffs could convince the court that Sheen didn’t disclose his HIV status to them, “they have a very high chance of prevailing.” And she added, “I would imagine it could be in the millions that somebody could recover from him.”

Which could actually be less than the payouts that Sheen told “Today’s” Matt Lauer that he’d been making to the “unsavory and insipid types” who’ve been extorting him with threats to expose his secret.

“Now he doesn’t have to ‘buy silence’ anymore, because it’s out there,” Blum said. “He was probably paying a high price tag with the threats of lawsuits in the past, because he didn’t want to be named as a defendant. He didn’t want the eyes of the world on him, to know his secret. Now it’s not a secret.”