Has There Been a Surge in Covid-19 Related Litigation?
Initially, many thought there would be a surge in litigation due to Covid-19. It turns out that there has been an increase, but it’s been modest. This increase comes from several types of litigation.
The first wave of Covid-19 litigation came about as people got sick on cruise lines. But as NPR reports, these lawsuits were difficult for plaintiffs to win. Reasons include the fact that the cruise ship companies aren’t American companies. They’re not subject to health and safety regulations from OSHA and other laws. Additionally, the ticketing agreement each passenger signs limits how and when lawsuits can be filed.
During the first year of the pandemic, there were about 2,000 lawsuits filed related to Covid-19 in the workplace. These claims included:
- Disability and reasonable accommodation
- Retaliation for whistleblowing
- Discrimination or harassment
- Workplace health and safety
- Wages and hours.
A recent case involving Walmart provides an example. In Evans v. Walmart, an Illinois case, the wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the estate of Wando Evans, a Walmart employee who passed away due to complications from Covid-19. The complaint alleges that several employees, including the deceased, exhibited signs of the coronavirus and that management knew this. The complaint alleged that Walmart failed to exercise reasonable care in keeping the store safe to protect employees and customers. It alleges examples of negligent conduct, including inadequate cleaning and sterilization processes, failure to implement social distancing, and failing to provide employees with protective equipment such as facemasks and gloves.
Evans is similar to hundreds of other similar cases filed around the country.
Claims against insurance companies initially skyrocketed by business owners forced to close due to the pandemic. Many businesses filed claims with their insurance companies for lost business income. However, most have been denied. That’s because, after the SARS virus of 2003, many insurance companies inserted language into their policies exempting coverage for virus outbreaks. Nevertheless, some businesses have prevailed.
North State Deli LLC et al. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co.is a typical example. In this case, plaintiffs operated sixteen restaurants in North Carolina. They had purchased “all risk” insurance policies from the defendant. Due to Covid-19, the restaurants had to close, and the plaintiffs lost money. They filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the defendant must replace their lost business income under the insurance policy. After reviewing the policy, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
The Next Wave
As Covid-19 vaccinations become more available to the general public, the issue raised is whether an employer can require employees to get the vaccination as a condition of returning to work. This hasn’t been resolved. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has released guidance and advises that requiring a vaccine does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. But that doesn’t end the debate. Employees still may have valid reasons to deny the vaccine based on medical issues or religious of freedom grounds. It’s anticipated that there will be many lawsuits filed by employees required by employers to get vaccinated.
Covid-19 has caused a modest increase in lawsuits, but not the tsunami that some people feared.