COVID-Related Negligence Suits Already Beginning
As the Coronavirus pandemic grows and more and more lives are in danger and lost, people will naturally look toward how that happened, and how it could have been avoided.
New York and New Jersey are taking proactive measures to make sure the heroes who are risking their lives during this crisis will not have to pay for it down the road, issuing executive orders and passing legislation that protect doctors, nurses, and others on the front lines from lawsuits—a critical step to ensuring people continue to receive the care they need.
Other businesses may be less likely to be protected, however, and how the courts will react to these claims remains to be seen. Here are some trending news items that foreshadow a wave of litigation as the spread of COVID-19 progresses.
Class-action suits for negligence are being filed against several large cruise ship companies, including Carnival and its subsidiaries Princess and Costa Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Passengers are banding together to file suits citing that the companies are liable for failing to notify them of previous guests exhibiting possible symptoms and not taking precautions to address the risk if a pathogen were on board. Another suit was filed by a shareholder for misrepresenting financial outlooks in the midst of the outbreak.
Coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in 2,500 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country with 21,000 reported cases between residents and staff members and 3,800 deaths. New York’s nursing homes have been hit particularly hard, representing one in four deaths statewide. These group homes pose an exceptionally dire threat, as most residents have underlying conditions which elevate their risk of death from the virus and many share rooms, which boosts contagion. Facilities are coming under fire for not quarantining or socially distancing residents, failing to report outbreaks to authorities, and not having a doctor onsite. The first wrongful death suit was just filed against Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA, which experienced 129 cases and 37 deaths. At the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Richmond, VA, 80% of residents have now tested positive and 45—more than a quarter of its residents—have died.
While jails and courts are striving to minimize COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities, they are facing challenges balancing justice and containment, and states and municipalities are getting sued because of it. The Corrections Officers Union is suing New York City, saying it failed to protect officers working in city jails. And while there is no pending lawsuit that we are aware of yet, the Kings County Supreme Court suffered the tragic loss of Judge Johnny Lee Baynes due to complications from COVID-19, and it is unclear how many others, from lawyers to plaintiffs to defendants to juries, may have been infected in that crowded courtroom.
Workers may not sue their employers for injuries and illnesses incurred on the job; they are only able to claim workers’ compensation for wage replacement and medical benefits. However, estate representatives may file wrongful death claims and damages can be awarded to family members. This is something we may see a lot of in the coming months from family members who believe their loved ones were not provided with personal protective equipment commensurate with their exposure. MTA workers have been dying of COVID-19 at triple the rate of the agencies employing NYC’s first responders. 1,900 of the MTA’s 72,000 workers have tested positive and 50 have died.