Who will sue over COVID, after COVID?
March 30, 2020 3:48 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of lawsuits will there be once (hopefully soon) COVID is effectively over?

I have so many questions about how this will play out in courts around the world but I don't know much about law, save what I've seen in the movies.

Are there some for sure outcomes that people who are legal professionals can already see coming? Will governments be sued?
posted by abuckamoon to Law & Government (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am aware of people considering getting into bankruptcy. There will probably be a lot of that work, but new entrants will probably be stuck doing low-end (low-pay) fill-in-the-blank cases for regular people. Commercial bankruptcy is complicated in direct proportion to the amount of money left to fight over, but if you know how to do it, it's probably gonna be phat times.

Lawyer colleagues anticipate a lot of divorce work. There will also likely be a lot of contract claims where people are arguing over whether force majeure excuses one or both parties from the contract.
posted by spacewrench at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have no answer but just saw this relevant article that might interest you.
posted by jdroth at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's going to be stuff mostly very boring for the layman. Contract disputes where one or both parties allegedly breached due to the coronavirus, securities fraud (did the company properly disclose risks as it became aware of them), consumer protection actions concerning fake cures or protective equipment.
posted by praemunire at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

What I've seen in North America: a lot of students with disabilities are being overlooked or deliberately ignored by their school districts and will need extra services to try to make up for lost progress. I bet their families are going to have to sue to get those services covered.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2020 [20 favorites]

Ladue Coronavirus dad lawyered up with a locally notorious attorney after his breaking isolation closed two schools and a hotel. I don't know if anything will ever come of it, but it would be delicious.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:38 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Here, I'm hoping that the employers who aren't taking the guidelines seriously and are pressuring employees to work without social distancing or other safety measures will get. their pants. sued off.

And I don't know if government officials can be sued for dragging their feet and not taking action to save lives and avoid overwhelming the health care system but I hope to god there is and that someone goes for it.
posted by bunderful at 4:49 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don't have the spoons to dive into issues related to suing governments for personal injury and sovereign immunity (NCSL) nor potential restrictions on content-based speech (Cornell LII) right now, but I did see this idea floated recently:

How to deal with people who carelessly risk infecting others (Jennifer Rubin, WaPo Opinion)
To address the problem of reckless, bad actors, some states may use police to enforce their stay-at-home orders. However, aside from the threat of fine or imprisonment, those risking others’ lives should be aware of potential civil liability. [...] These are issues that will work themselves out in courts around the country as we watch covid-19 spread. There will be some reckless and cavalier actors who, despite the plethora of public knowledge, choose to expose others to risks. Nevertheless, the very real potential for legal liability — if not the moral obligation to avoid risking others’ health — should put reckless actors on notice. If you think you have the disease, if you are concerned enough for your own well-being to be tested or if you provide service for others, you had better show extreme care when others are at risk.
posted by katra at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this also. Oh God, Everybody! Some off the top of my head:

Battelle: Your sterilization technology was rushed into production with insufficient testing
Anyone who sewed a mask: Your makeshift mask did not offer sufficient protection
Anyone who 3D Printed ventilator adapters: My client died while attached to a vent using your part
Distilleries: Your moonshine hand sanitizer did not sanitize adequately
GM/Ford/Ventilator company partners: You're a car company and didn't manufacture ventilators with sufficient QA
Pizza Company and Pizza Guy: My client contracted COVID-19 and the only contact they had was with your driver
Supermarkets: My client was injured in a melee at your store because you did not provide adequate security
US Department of Labor: Affirmative Action guidelines were suspended the day the stimulus package was passed

And on and on and on. COVID-19 will be a full employment act for lawyers. In the 2030s COVID-19 will be the new mesothelioma in lawyer commercials.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:16 PM on March 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

Immigrants being held by ICE are suing.

NRA suing over gun restrictions.

Folks on the cruise ship are suing .

The city of Costa Mesa was at one point considering suing the Trump administration. Not sure if that is still going forward.
posted by ladyriffraff at 5:19 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

There is a lot of fear in the American medical community about malpractice suits from practicing outside one's usual scope of practice (e.g. managing ventilators when not board certified in critical care medicine). Good Samaritan protections don't apply when you're at your workplace.

Also: lawsuits brought against hospital administrators for endangering workers and patients through lack of protective equipment. Or putting patients at risk with in person rather than telemed appointments. Or misdiagnosis because of telemed. Or delayed diagnosis because of understaffing.
posted by basalganglia at 5:22 PM on March 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

Ladue Coronavirus dad lawyered up with a locally notorious attorney after his breaking isolation closed two schools and a hotel.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. I’m guessing there are a lot of business owners out there nursing grudges against the people who they think are responsible for their business getting closed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2020

I have seen sources I respect mentioning the idea of class action lawsuits against Fox News. A quick search turned this up.
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski suggested Fox News might be liable for the deaths of viewers who trusted their “misinformation” about the deadly coronavirus.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Well, here in Ontario a bunch of different parents thought the complete lockdown was a PERFECT opportunity to deny their co-parent parenting time. Although our courts have been closed for several weeks the Courts are hearing Urgent matters via telephone and written submissions. My favourite judge, Justice Pazaratz, wrote an excellent decision March 24th that laid the groundwork for family matters in the time of Covid (if you are interested in family court matters his decisions are, bar none, the most entertaining reads around).
posted by saucysault at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

Looking at insurance-related matters, the French Laundry has sued its insurance carrier over whether this is covered by their business interruption policy. Other businesses will probably do similarly because most business interruption policies only cover interruption due to physical damage.

There will probably be lawsuits related to the ADA.
posted by Lexica at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Medical malpractice & anti-discrimination cases over certain people not getting intubated/supported on ventilators because their prognosis wasn't good enough for it due to factors like age, health history, etc.
posted by zdravo at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would love to see a lawsuit against Fox News. I would expect to see lawsuits against any treatments, vaccines, and equipment that aren't completely perfect and side-effect-free.
posted by mersen at 7:11 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I hope there are huge suits against employers like grocery stores who refuse to let their employees wear masks when facing hundreds of people!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:56 PM on March 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm a real estate lawyer and while most transactions are going through we've got at least one client who is thinking of using COVID-19 as a way to back out of a deal. We don't think it'll work out for them but they seem fairly adamant about it right now.

One interesting thing here in Ontario is that the limitation periods (time you have to sue someone) and procedural time periods (time you have to do a specific step in your court case, such as file a defence) have been suspended indefinitely. So it's kind of a big snow day for anyone who was running into a deadline in the courts.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:31 PM on March 30, 2020

Oh, yeah, insurance coverage litigation, of course. Lots of that. (Some of you have...oddly capacious notions of tort liability, at least in the United States. Which spring from extremely right-wing ideology, by the way, so I wish you'd examine them.)
posted by praemunire at 9:02 PM on March 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Yes to contract law.

Good contracts include force majeure clauses but contracts without one might get a party boned hard.

We've recently run into a bunch of problems - not with us not being able to deliver - but the clients not able to take a shipment of live plant material at the time that the contract stipulates.

We're working with living plant material, so if it doesn't go out the door at a particular stage in development, we're stuck spending resources keeping it alive and if we deliver later, we're delivering a product with a significantly higher value add, but production timing on our client's end may be screwed up as well (typically not, if their operations are disrupted - we save their fooking day company in these cases).

We can't meet some of our clients' delayed delivery schedule because the lead-time to grow up new material to the appropriate level of development takes longer than the delay. It also costs us in resources getting the first batch up to original delivery conditions (which we now have to destroy or re-allocate, the later which typically isn't possible - licensed/ exclusive genetics), and costs us resources (and opportunity costs) to create a new batch timed to the later of 1) their new delivery date or 2) the time it takes us to get new material to the specified developmental stage.

And the client might push that back further, again if conditions remain dismal.

We're learning, but we haven't yet <knocks wood> had an issue where both parties weren't willing to rewrite the contract, in good faith.

fwiw, I'm in the tissue culture nursery niche in the Canadian federally regulated Cannabis industry. I can see a lot of fireworks in 'States. We're talking monthly batches to each client that can be worth multi millions of dollars each to the producers/ cultivators - that are now unrealized on both sides while expenses continue to accrue.
posted by porpoise at 9:32 PM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

The airlines here (UK) seem to be making it very hard to get a refund for cancelled flights despite this being managed in law. Options for refunds have been removed from websites in favour of rebooking in the future. That might lead to some legal action. Some of the travel insurance sold as covering everything also seems to be less everything than many consumers would have assumed. No idea how widespread that will turn out to be.

Some police forces seem to be making up law as they go in interpreting the emergency act to support isolation, arresting people based on law that isn't in existence. Even bragging about it in one case.
posted by biffa at 1:00 AM on March 31, 2020

Two out of 4 flatmates where I'm living have bailed on the lease. Neither had much choice - one was a foreign national and left when advised to by their government. The other lost their job so could no longer afford the rent.

Landlord is insisting we need to find replacement tenants or pay the extra rent (jointly & severally liable), but:

(a) our work has gone too
(b) holding viewings would be violating the lockdown laws
(c) it's now a buyers market because all the AirBnB places have been dumped back into the rental market overnight
(d) who the hell wants to be moving at a time like this anyway
(e) I have a chronic respiratory condition and letting some stranger into the flat could literally kill me.

Landlord can't evict us for the next three months though, because the government's banned that.

A lot of cases like this are going to collide with the courts at some point or other.
posted by automatronic at 1:33 AM on March 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

The airlines here (UK) seem to be making it very hard to get a refund for cancelled flights despite this being managed in law.

One other feature that we have seen with airlines and insurance companies - is the blocking effect on those trying to make claims that is generated by very high traffic to their sites and call centres or claim mechanisms which are either broken or overloaded to the point or being broken. For example, I have been wrestling with an insurance company website where is is only possible to register by entering a captcha - that then breaks on every browser under the sun. I am not sure where phenomena like this sit from a legal perspective - but I would imagine that they will be involved somewhere.
posted by rongorongo at 3:18 AM on March 31, 2020

Best answer: I would not be surprised if you see legislation passed indemnifying certain select industries. Chiefly, I would expect the healthcare industry (however broadly it gets defined) to receive some level of immunity, owing simply to the extreme nature of the emergency. And, yeah, this would also somehow include news organizations, in order to keep FOX out of hot water.

(The cynic in me, of course, also sees inclusion in the bill being determined by how well said industry financially supports the current administration.)
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 AM on March 31, 2020

Yeah, most likely scenario is a Hobbesian lawsuit war of all against all, eventually constrained at least a little by subsequent legislation.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:58 AM on March 31, 2020

I am an OBGYN resident who has seen substantial changes in how we practice medicine over the last few weeks (designed to reduce risk to patients and providers, and to use as few healthcare resources unnecessarily as possible). I am interested to see how some of these adaptations will translate into malpractice cases.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

The worst lawsuits will be wrongful death claims. Once the ability to meet the need for breathing assistance has been exceeded there will have to be choices made. These life-and-death choices will be hard, and it is likely that family will be kept away from the patients as they die. There is no getting around the fact that there will be many sad and angry people.

It is instructive to read about the trial of Dr. Anna Pou, who as a doctor in a hospital without basic lifesaving equipment made a choice to allow or promote the deaths of the worst-off patients, in the aftermath of Katrina.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:21 AM on March 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would imagine litigation will be pursued towards hospitals hoping to implement universal DNR against the wishes of the patient or the patient's family.

I hope all the idiot teenagers violating the stay home orders can be sued for some reason.

I hope the governors that downplayed the problem or just prayed about it rather than enforcing social distancing can be sued by somebody somewhere.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seattle-area nursing home hit with wrongful death lawsuit over coronavirus death (Reuters).
A woman whose mother died of the coronavirus at a Seattle-area nursing home that was ravaged by the COVID-19 outbreak filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Friday against the company that owns the facility.

Debbie de los Angeles, whose mother Twilla Morin, 85, died on March 4 at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington of COVID-19 sued its parent company, Life Care Centers of America, alleging the company concealed vital facts about the outbreak before her mother died.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2020

Response by poster: a bit after the fact, but by way of follow up, couple of new lawsuits mentioned in this post:
posted by abuckamoon at 5:22 PM on April 22, 2020

Response by poster: Whoops, this is the link
posted by abuckamoon at 5:29 PM on April 22, 2020

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