Skip to Content

Is Coughing on Someone with COVID-19 a Crime? Criminal Defense in the Era of the Novel Coronavirus

Serving Families Throughout Jacksonville

As COVID-19 sweeps the US, it continues to affect the lives of citizens in a variety of ways. From widespread job losses to stay-at-home orders, it's safe to say life looks different now for most Americans than it did just a year ago.

As cases continue to rise across the globe, more and more people are concerned with protecting themselves from COVID-19 while out and about. At some point, you've probably asked yourself the question, "what happens if I cough on someone, and they think I have COVID-19?" Today, we're answering that question (and more).

At Jason K.S. Porter, P.A., we'll help you navigate your criminal defense case. Contact us online or via phone at (904) 701-0591 to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.

What Happens if Someone with COVID-19 Coughs on Another Person?

Whether or not coughing in public while you have COVID-19 is a crime depends on your intent.

Many people think that assault charges are only applicable when an individual is directly harmed as the result of another person's actions, but that's not always the case. Assault is generally defined as an act by performed by someone that causes another person to sustain harm or give them a rational reason to fear injury.

Under that definition, it's not hard to see how coughing on someone while having COVID-19 could qualify as assault. If the person being coughed on knows the other individual is infected, they may rightfully believe their health is at risk since they now stand a greater chance of contracting the virus.

However, there are two major caveats here:

  • The person accused of assault must know that their actions will result in injury or cause another person to fear for their life. In other words, a person with COVID-19 who coughs on another individual must know they have COVID-19 for it to be assault.
  • The person accused of assault must behave recklessly. It may not be possible for a person with COVID-19 to avoid going out in public if they need to buy necessities, and they may cough while doing so. They must behave in a reckless manner (intentionally coughing towards other people, refusing to wear a mask, etc.) for their actions to be interpreted as assault.

Has Anyone Actually Been Charged with Assault for COVID-19?

Yes, several people have received assault charges after claiming to have COVID-19 and coughing on others. In Florida, a man said he had COVID-19 and then coughed on a deputy, resulting in assault charges. Another Florida man was charged after coughing on a cashier, and a woman in New York was charged for stating she had the virus and proceeding to cough towards others on a crowded subway station.

For individuals who contract COVID-19, the best thing to do is take recommended precautions, like wearing a mask in public to avoid coughing on others. Individuals who think they have the novel coronavirus should also consider alternatives to going out, such as using a delivery service to have groceries delivered to their door and paying for items using their card and mobile device instead of cash.

At Jason K.S. Porter, P.A., we can help you navigate your criminal defense case. Whether you're facing an assault charge or are engaged in another criminal dispute, we'll work tirelessly to protect your rights and best interests in and out of the courtroom.

To schedule a consultation with our team or learn more about our services, contact us online or via phone at (904) 701-0591.