Can I Sue For Negligence Or Wrongful Death Due To Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus pandemic has infected many individuals and has claimed many lives in the United States.  A coronavirus lawsuit or a coronavirus class action may include causes of actions for wrongful death or negligence in exposing individuals to the virus.  

Effective ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to continue practicing proper hygiene. However, it is inevitable in society that germs will spread.  So, the questions become: “What happens if someone gave you the coronavirus?” and “Do I have a lawsuit if I am infected with coronavirus?” Depending on the circumstances, a coronavirus lawsuit could be initiated. There are no guaranteed outcomes as it will be very hard to provide certain evidence and it is an ongoing process.

Many business entities and organizations may find themselves on the opposite end of a coronavirus lawsuit. These may include hospitals, restaurants, day care centers, nursing homes, and hotels. Most likely as more people become infected with the virus, there may be a floodgate of litigation against businesses involving coronavirus exposure and infections. 

Can I Sue Someone For Exposing Me To The Coronavirus?

In civil law, a person or entity may be held liable for spreading a contagious illness if the person failed to meet the applicable standard of care under the circumstances.  The person or entity must have breached a legal duty.  

Civil tort law imposes duties of individuals and businesses to conduct themselves according to appropriate safety standards set by society.  Civil tort law is different from criminal law. In civil tort law, a criminal offense does not have to be committed. Instead, a person is held liable for damages done to a person out of malice or negligence.  Negligence occurs when a person breaches their duty to act careful. The elements of negligence include: (1) duty of care, (2) breach of the duty, (3) causation, (4) and damages. The breach must have been the legal proximate cause of the harm, i.e. damages.     

Firstly, there must be an applicable legal duty imposed on the individual or business to act in a safe manner under the circumstances.  The coronavirus is something new to our society and the law is developing on what standards of care must be followed.    

Here at The Sterling Firm, we have qualified attorneys to help establish that the defendant had a duty to act safely and failed to act accordingly, which then resulted in damages. These elements must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant was responsible for an injury.  That is, based on the facts it must be shown to the jury that the defendant was more-likely-than-not responsible for the injury. 

How Can I Prove That Someone Caused Me To Be Infected With Coronavirus?

Causation is an element that must be established in order for a defendant to be liable for negligence.  The infection must have been caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct. The harm must be the legal proximate cause of the defendant’s breach of their duty of care.  In regards to coronavirus infections, this will be the most difficult hurdle to overcome. There are many possible “superseding” acts that may have potentially caused the infection.  For example, the infection could have been caused by being exposed to someone who is not showing symptoms, by someone who merely coughs without covering their mouth, or by the virus being in the air around you.  The coronavirus is invisible which makes proving legal liability difficult.  

However, arguments can be made that “it was more likely than not” based on the evidence that the defendant’s failure to be safe exposed you to the virus and caused the infection.  For example, if the defendant is an employer and requires you to work in a job position that forces you to come into contact with people who have the virus and that employer fails to satisfy safety standards, then there may be civil tort liability.  Another hypothetical example may include if an individual knows that they are infected and contagious, and has been ordered to quarantine themselves, but yet still exposes you to the virus. This type of situation may result in civil liability and also possible punitive damages for the grossly negligent and malicious conduct.     

What Monetary Damages Can I Recover For Being Infected By Coronavirus?

The fourth element of a negligence cause of action is damages. The damages include the losses and harms that result from an injury or illness.  

In regards to the coronavirus, the harm to someone who is infected and recovers from the virus may not be “substantial”.  The harm in this type of case would include the temporary loss time from work and the temporary pain and suffering related to the infection.  Although the threat of the coronavirus is very substantial, the actual damages may not be substantial – objectively speaking. Many people who become infected are being forced to quarantine for fourteen days.  Many people are fortunately recovering from the illness. It has been reported that the majority of infections do not result in serious illness. Some people may not even suffer any symptoms at all.  

All of these factors make it difficult to prove substantial damages from the coronavirus that could be compensated by a monetary award or settlement.  Simply put, you are not likely to have a successful lawsuit involving a coronavirus infection if you only missed a few days from work and experienced flu-like symptoms.     

Still, there is a very large number of people who may suffer long-term injuries and may even die due to the coronavirus.        

Can I Sue For Wrongful Death Due To Coronavirus Infection?

Wrongful death cases are also civil lawsuits that may be pursued if you have a family member who died from the coronavirus.  In order to succeed in a wrongful death action, the same elements as negligence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Again, the major legal hurdle in proving this type of case will be establishing the element of causation.  

As a hypothetical example, a facility or business may be held liable for the death of their worker or customer due to coronavirus if it did not engage in proper cleaning or quarantine methods.

What If A Business Withheld Information Or Misled Customers About The Possible Exposure To Coronavirus?

If you believe that an entity withheld information or misled customers then there is a possibility of a lawsuit. An example of a case already filed includes the Princess Cruise Lines withholding information from passengers. Claimants in Florida are stating that Princess Cruise Lines was aware of the outbreak on their cruise lines.  The lawsuit states that the company decided to continue with business even with “knowing that the ship was infected from two previous passengers who came down with symptoms of COVID-19, and had sixty two passengers on board.” The lawsuit claims that a previous voyage by the same cruise ship had alerted passengers of the exposure to COVID-19 but that their respective cruise was not disseminated the same information as the prior voyage.  

Can I Sue A Government Agency, Hospital, Or Nursing Home For Coronavirus Infection?

There are a number of measures that need to be accounted for before determining if a person can sue an institution for coronavirus.  For example, the following must be addressed:

  • Did the institution take “all reasonable measures” in order to prevent exposure to the virus? An example of this would be a failure to prepare for the containment of an infectious disease in a nursing home. “Reasonable measures” may include: 
    • Frequent disinfection of surfaces, objects, and appliances. 
    • Providing gloves, masks, and hand-sanitizers to the staff as well as patients or patrons.  
    • Isolating staff and residents who have coronavirus. 
    • Complying with regulations set out by the CDC and other federal agencies. 
  • Did the person who contracted the virus suffer any life-changing injuries? 
  • Did the hospital or nursing home make their visitors, customers, or patients sign a contract that waives the person’s rights to file a class-action suit? Is there an arbitration clause? This may restrict the infected individuals from filing a class action.  This is a strategy by businesses to limit their legal liability exposure. An individual lawsuit may not be as effective as a class action if there were numerous individuals infected.    

Will Having A “Compromised” Immune System Be A Defense To A Coronavirus Lawsuit? 

The coronavirus has a more serious impact on the health of an individual who is said to have a “compromised” immune system, such as those people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions or immune-deficiency conditions. Furthermore, a person’s age, demographic, and health condition all impact their probability of contracting the virus and their ability to recover from it. Older individuals, as well as those with pre-existing health concerns, have a higher mortality rate.  

The fact that an individual may be more susceptible to being impacted by coronavirus infection is not a defense to liability.  The “Eggshell Skull Rule” is a legal theory that states that a defendant is liable for all unforeseen and uncommon reactions to the defendant’s negligent or intentional acts as result of the plaintiff being more susceptible to being “broken” or harmed.   

The law follows that: “You take your plaintiff as you find them”.  If the plaintiff is more likely to be harmed by the virus, the liable party is still fully responsible for that harm.  The victim’s weakened condition or compromised immune system does not render a valid legal defense.

Is The Coronavirus Considered An “Act Of God” That Will Be A Defense To A Coronavirus Lawsuit?

“Acts of God” are determined as: “An extraordinary interruption by a natural cause (such as a flood or earthquake) of the usual course of events that experience, prescience, or care cannot reasonably foresee or prevent”. 

“Acts of God” are important because it can limit a business entity’s legal liability during an event out of their control. However, the defendant may still be liable on the basis that it was aware of an issue and did not properly disclose that information to people who may be at risk. In other words, the applicability of an “Act of God” defense will be determined according to the preventative measures taken by the business entity such as hygienic negligence or proper disclosure of information.  

A Coronavirus Lawsuit Will Be A “Case Of First Impression”

Because the coronavirus pandemic is essentially a situation never experienced before in the history of our country let alone throughout the globe.  We are experiencing a global crisis that we never have seen before. There will most likely be lawsuits filed concerning the coronavirus. These will be cases of first impression to be heard in our civil court system. Because this pandemic has never happened before it is hard to conclude what will happen in the future and what type of coronavirus lawsuit and coronavirus class action will be accepted or denied by the courts. While many cases rely on precedent set by prior case decisions, this novel and new situation is hard to compare to previous court cases. In a case of first impression, the exact issue has never been addressed by the court; therefore, there is no binding authority on that specific issue.  As such, it is best to discuss the specific facts of your case with an experienced attorney. Contact The Sterling Firm to speak with an attorney who can analyze your case, inform you of your legal rights, and help you pursue a coronavirus lawsuit.