Can I Sue Someone for Exposing Me to the Coronavirus?June 1, 2020
As Texas & Other States Reopen, Many Have Questions About COVID-19 Lawsuits & When They Can Sue for Coronavirus Exposure
The coronavirus has taken tens of thousands of lives while upending the lives of millions more. For those navigating the world following the COVID-19 outbreak, the landscape of our daily lives has been dramatically transformed, altering everything from how we work and shop to how we exercise, socialize, travel, and more.
Now that Texas and several other states have reopened for business, many are concerned about their risk of coronavirus exposure and what their rights are if they are exposed to COVID-19 at work or in any public setting.
Shedding more light on the legal issues surrounding coronavirus exposure, here’s a look at the COVID-19 lawsuits filed to date and when you may have grounds to file a coronavirus lawsuit.
How Many COVID-19 Lawsuits Have Been Filed So Far?
As of May 1, 2020, more than 770 coronavirus lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts across the U.S. Many of these claims are related to exposure issues and how various parties allegedly contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
What Allegations Have Been Raised in Coronavirus Lawsuits?
The lawsuits alleging negligence in exposing people to COVID-19 include an array of different claims, including (but not limited to) failures to:
- Provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Abide by social distancing protocols
- Cancel or suspend large gatherings
- Send symptomatic or sick employees home
- Implement testing plans and/or contract tracing
- Take other reasonable actions to prevent the spread of the virus
Some cases, like a lawsuit filed against Smithfield Foods, even allege that employers were providing incentives (bonuses) to employees who showed up to work sick.
It’s important to note that coronavirus exposure is just one of the claims being made in the hundreds of COVID-19 lawsuits that are already making their way through the U.S. courts. Other allegations made in coronavirus lawsuits have included (and are not limited to):
- Failures to issue refunds for event cancellations: Cruise lines, airlines, hotels, concert ticket vendors, and others are in the hot seat for not providing refunds for travel or events that never occurred due to cancellations and lockdowns.
- Failures to issue refunds for tuitions and subscription fees: Colleges and universities, as well as gyms and other membership-based businesses, have also come under fire for charging customers for services that were never provided due to campus or business shutdowns.
- Discrimination, family leave, and employment termination claims: Parents who have been fired after taking time off work or asking for flexible working hours to care for children (due to school and daycare closures) have alleged wrongful termination and discrimination against employers.
Can I File a Coronavirus Lawsuit?
Whether you have grounds to file a COVID-19 lawsuit will depend on several factors, including (but not limited to):
- Where you may have been exposed to the coronavirus: If you were exposed at work, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim—unless some egregious form of negligence was involved, in which case you may be able to file a coronavirus lawsuit. While exposure outside of work can also give risk to COVID-19 claims, some places, like hospitals and nursing homes, may have special protections against these liability claims.
- The harm caused by the exposure: In order to have a valid claim, exposure to COVID-19 must have caused illness. In other words, you can’t file a lawsuit for simply being exposed to the virus. The exposure itself must have resulted in physical harm and illness.
- The measures taken to prevent exposure: Did a business or organization follow the necessary protocols, like local ordinances and the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to limit the spread of COVID-19? If so, it may be more challenging to hold those parties liable for coronavirus exposure.
- What you can prove: Given how easily COVID-19 spreads—and that it can be asymptomatic for days after contracting the virus—it can be difficult to prove where exactly exposure occurred. This will likely be even more challenging with states reopening. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible. Contact-tracing and several COVID-19 cases tied to one site can be helpful in establishing where exposure likely occurred.
Coronavirus Lawsuits: The Bottom Line
When it comes to COVID-19 lawsuits, the bottom line is that we have yet to see the full scope of these cases and how they will turn out. While many are eager to see how these claims will fare, one thing seems clear already—coronavirus lawsuits will likely set some new precedents while reshaping the laws, policies, and insurance coverages related to pandemics.