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Since the World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020, the phrase “unprecedented times” has been used frequently. However, in the legal world, these truly are unprecedented times. COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed across the United States and beyond, but in most cases it’s still unclear where the courts will land.
According to a Covid Litigation Tracker developed by the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, more than 1,900 insurance litigation cases have been filed across the U.S. relating to a COVID lawsuit. In the state of California, 38 personal injury cases were related to a coronavirus lawsuit.
Personal Injury: Precedents and How They Could Affect COVID-19 Lawsuits
The success of personal injury lawsuits could hinge on the intent of and precautions taken by defendants – those alleged to have spread COVID-19 to others. Section 1714(a) of the California Civil Code establishes that everyone has a duty to prevent transmission to the best of their ability:
“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.”
This section was cited in a 1990 case where a defendant was found liable for transmitting herpes to a sexual partner. The defendant knew he had herpes and had suffered several outbreaks in the past, but was judged to have breached his duty under Section 1714(a) because he took no precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.
If a judge decides a person with COVID-19 did not take reasonable and necessary precautions to prevent spreading the disease, they may similarly be found liable in a personal injury lawsuit. The definition of reasonable and necessary precautions involving a COVID lawsuit, however, is still ambiguous and could change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Can You Sue Your Employer for Negligence if You Contracted COVID at Work?
Thousands of such lawsuits have been filed against employers due to employees contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, but very few have gone before a judge. Similar to personal injury cases, however, the biggest factor may be whether or not employers were complying with health and safety regulations meant to prevent the spread of the disease.
One case that has reached judgment in California involved a woman who sued her husband’s employer, claiming he had been exposed to COVID-19 at work and subsequently passed it on to her. The judge dismissed the coronavirus lawsuit, saying that the plaintiff’s claims were barred under California’s workers’ compensation law. This could be a precedent-setting case nationwide as it pertains to employees’ families, but suits filed directly by employees could have different outcomes.
Can You Sue Someone for Giving You COVID? New Liability Protection Legislation
Perhaps in anticipation of a wave of COVID-19 lawsuits that could create a backlog in the court system, several U.S. states have introduced legislation to protect businesses and institutions against being sued.
Three such bills are pending in California, including two that are specific to colleges and universities. Assembly Bill 1152 would establish a standard of care for COVID-19 safety and introduce a temporary limitation on COVID lawsuit liability for post-secondary educational institutions as they work to get back to in-person instruction. Assembly Bill 1759 would provide liability protection to institutions, their employees, and governing bodies, so long as they substantially complied with COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 1313 would exempt businesses from liability in claims alleging someone caught COVID-19 at the business or due to the business’s actions. As with the educational institution bills, however, the business must have complied with state and local laws and health guidelines to be protected.
Other potential cases may revolve around the filing of a COVID vaccines lawsuit, particularly pertaining to employers or groups who make vaccination mandatory for employment or participation. This has been tested already, however, with the courts coming out on the side of the vaccines.
In June 2021, a Texas federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by 117 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital, who had challenged a requirement imposed by the hospital stipulating that they must be vaccinated to continue working at the location. Judge Lynn N. Hughes said the plaintiffs had no case, and said they had “misconstrued” the law and “misrepresented the facts of vaccination.”
How Do You Pursue a COVID-19 Lawsuit?
Avrek Law is here to help you understand your legal options when it comes to filing a COVID-19 lawsuit. The consultation is free, and you’ll get expert advice from a law firm with $1 Billion recovered in more than 10,000 cases across the states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Contact us today – we want to hear more about your case!