It has been the longer part of a year since states began imposing restrictions to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. And through it all, we’ve seen that the most effective way to battle the spread is for every person, government, and business to do their due diligence in protecting themselves, and more importantly, protecting those around them and in their care. We’ve seen what happens when caution goes to the wayside: slip-ups and carelessness lead to spikes in cases and, tragically, preventable illness and deaths.
The most amazing part of civil justice is that when something like this happens, trial lawyers take action to hold the negligent parties accountable and make them do better moving forward. The situation surrounding COVID-19 is no exception. Legal actions are continuing to emerge, taking a variety of parties to task for their mishandling of coronavirus prevention and safety. Here are three that have recently been in the news:
- Claims are aiming at businesses that had COVID-19 outbreaks after which workers brought the virus home and infected relatives. Interestingly, the attorneys bringing these cases are drawing from the “take home” elements of asbestos/mesothelioma litigation.
- Suits are also being filed against nursing homes and long-term care facilities by families of residents who died from COVID-19. Many of these facilities saw outbreaks with a staggering number of cases. These suits cite state statutes that protect nursing home residents often in addition to common law tort theories.
- Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts against jails and prisons for their negligence in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. Several have reached the Supreme Court. Many of the suits are part of class actions filed by civil rights and prisoner advocacy groups with the support of law firms. Some call for improved conditions under the CDC’s COVID-19 prevention guidelines, and many advocate for the compassionate release of sick or at-risk inmates.
Even after losing a loved one to what feels like the negligent mishandling of COVID-19, there are likely many Americans who are hesitant to explore the idea of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. For some, taking legal action might feel like an added burden in an already overwhelming time; for others, it could be the misconception that a lawsuit is just a “money grab.” But the truth is actually different.
Besides covering financial losses, called “damages,” filing suit sends a message that whatever negligence occurred – in this case, the behavior that led to a person’s death from COVID-19 – is unacceptable and must stop now. When a victim’s family voices their pain through a legal claim, the responsible party is forced to take an inward look at what has happened, what should have been done better, and what needs to happen in the future to avoid the same situation again. And while nothing can bring back a loved one who died from COVID-19, the power of a family’s legal action in stopping future negligent behavior can protect other families from suffering the same devastation. The message carries on and sets a precedent for the future.
And for the families out there who choose not to file a lawsuit, that’s their right, too. But the civil justice system will be there for them, no matter how they decide to move forward.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).