COVID-19 disrupted countless lives. Given its swift pace, we are just now catching up to the effects of the coronavirus. However, the law is still lagging behind. For this reason, we do not yet know how the courts will view civil liability in coronavirus cases. Can negligence play a part in the spread of coronavirus? Can you sue someone if their negligence is to blame for giving you the coronavirus/COVID? Or, can you sue someone if that same negligence leads to the death of a friend or family member? If so, how can you prove this negligence in a court of law? Our Santa Rosa personal injury lawyers discuss some of these questions below.
How Does Negligence Affect Personal Injury Claims?
Before assessing civil liability in coronavirus cases, it will help to understand liability in typical personal injury claims. For these types of claims, you must prove three specific elements to be successful:
- Another party owed you a certain duty of care in a given situation
- This party failed to uphold this duty of care by acting negligently
- This negligence directly led to your substantial harm
In theory, this should also apply to coronavirus personal injury cases. In this scenario, you would have to prove the following:
- Another party owed a certain duty of care to take reasonable action which would prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19
- This party failed to uphold this duty by acting negligently
- This negligence directly led to your contracting of COVID-19, a substantial harm (and you would need to illustrate the harm)
While it may appear obvious that such a lawsuit could work, proving these elements in practice may prove challenging. Let us consider why.
Establishing a Duty of Care Owed During the Coronavirus Pandemic
To determine civil liability in coronavirus cases, you must first establish a duty of care. To do so, we may refer to the laws that are already on the books. These laws will intersect with the entity you are trying to hold responsible in your claim.
For example, employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees as determined by the federal law OSHA. However, OSHA does not require most employers to protect workers against airborne viruses, such as COVID-19. While OSHA did release COVID-19 guidelines for employers to follow, they are not legally binding. In this situation, can your employer be legally liable if you contract COVID-19 while at work?
We may also look to case law when trying to determine a relevant duty of care. Simply put, case law relies on the determination of one case to set a standard which can then apply to similar cases in the future. For example, California’s case law may have a lot to say about the duty of care owed when it comes to preventing the spreading of airborne illness. However, COVID-19 is brand new. The novelty and quickness with which it spreads may distinguish it from previous cases in significant ways. It is difficult to say how civil liability in coronavirus disease cases will shake out until the courts actually litigate these cases.
How Do I Prove That I Contracted COVID-19 Due to Another Party’s Negligence?
Another key element to proving civil liability in coronavirus disease cases will depend on how you contracted the virus. On this front, we know a little about how COVID-19 spreads. The coronavirus can live on surfaces for an extended period of time. Touching these surfaces may put you at risk for contracting COVID-19. Further, coronavirus can spread interpersonally. Coughing, sneezing or any other means of transmitting bodily fluids may put you at risk for getting sick.
Given these facts, there are two main ways you may get sick: through touching contaminated surfaces or interpersonally. This means that your personal injury claim must first trace your contraction of the virus back to the source. Then, you have to prove it occurred due to the negligent actions of another. Successfully proving these elements might be quite difficult, raising the following questions:
- How do I prove that a specific party got me sick as opposed to someone or something else?
- Can someone be considered negligent for giving me COVID-19 if they did not know they were a carrier at the time of transmission?
- To what extent can another party be held legally liable for not following recommended social distancing guidelines?
- To what extent can another party be held legally liable for not following recommended quarantine guidelines?
Harmed by Coronavirus? Discuss Your Legal Options With a Santa Rosa Personal Injury Lawyer
A coronavirus personal injury case may be difficult to prove. However, it may still be worth pursuing. Contracting COVID-19 is a serious matter due to the risk of fatality it poses for you and your loved ones. If another party’s negligence is the reason you become sick, this negligence is reckless and you should address it. At the same time, some cases will be easier to prove than others. If you believe you have a valid claim, contact a Santa Rosa personal injury lawyer to discuss the details of your situation. In a free consultation, we can determine the validity of your claim and discuss your legal options from there. To get started, give us a call at (707) 833-8614.