Two recent stories recently posted on the STLToday website show that the implications of actions taken and not taken in regard to the COVID19 virus are beginning to have ripple effects in the courthouses around the country, as well as the schools, bars and restaurants and other businesses.
During an August 11 meeting of the Missouri House Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention, attorney Susan Goldammer (who works for the Missouri School Boards’ Association) said school districts should be prepared to get sued. She noted that school districts are shielded from most types of lawsuits, but there are exceptions when it comes to negligence.”
Plenty of concerns have already been raised about the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts made by schools and businesses to protect students, teachers, customers, employees and the public from exposure to the Coronavirus on their premises.
As inevitable as it appears to be that someone will be exposed to COVID at work, at school, at bars, restaurants, churches or elsewhere, some of those cases are sure to wind up in court. It is at least somewhat surprising that COVID19 lawyer advertisements have not yet begun appearing on our local TV stations and social media.
One reason might be because of the difficulty of proving how, when and where the victim contracted the virus – was it at lunch or dinner? At the bar on Thursday or at the drycleaners on Saturday?
Another reason could be the amount of damages involved. We are just beginning to hear reports of significant long-term health damage caused by COVID19 in some cases. In most cases, however, the victim recovers with few symptoms. Absent long-term consequences, death of the victim, or massive health care expenses not paid by health insurance, the vast majority of cases will not be worth pursuing as a practical matter.
But what about businesses who have lost profits or been forced to close due to the quarantine? On August 12, A federal judge in Missouri ruled that a group of hair salons and restaurants can sue their insurance carrier for business interruption losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which they say caused a “direct physical loss” to their premises.
The fine legal point involved is whether the presence of COVID-19 was a “benign condition,” as opposed to a “physical substance” that attached to and damaged property, rendering it unsafe and unusable.
Business owners have filed hundreds of lawsuits claiming that their business interruption insurance, which typically offers coverage for losses from calamities such as fires or floods, should also cover a pandemic.
Analysts have said the industry’s coronavirus-related losses have so far been modest. That may not be the case for much longer.