A law firm is claiming to have brought the “first known COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit” in Illinois state court. In a previous post, we discussed whether an individual could bring suit against an individual or business for contracting Coronavirus. In short, existing law requires that an individual establish to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that had the individual or business acted reasonably under the circumstances, the infected individual would not have gotten ill. The blog concluded that it would be difficult to bring suit, but not impossible.
Let’s take a look at the details we have available in the Walmart COVID-19 lawsuit:
The family of a deceased worker claims that the worker died after contracting Coronavirus on the job at Walmart due to the lack of following protocol by the company.
The family alleges that Walmart failed to:
- Sterilize and clean stores
- Implement proper social distancing guidelines
- Provide protective equipment to employees
In response to the family’s allegations, Walmart claims it attempted to protect its employees by:
- Increasing cleaning and sanitation measures
- Screening associates in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus
- Limiting the number of customers allowed on the floor
Here, the family must prove that Walmart’s claimed safety measures were not reasonable under the circumstances. At first glance, you may be thinking “These safety measures appear to be reasonable, what more could they have done?” However, the key to the analysis is reasonableness under the circumstances. In their Complaint, the family also alleges that Walmart allowed employees to continue working despite showing symptoms of the virus. This changes everything. Once Walmart had notice that its employees could have Coronavirus, it should have increased safety measures to respond to the heightened threat. If the family is able to prove that it did not, this may merit a finding of liability against Walmart.
The lawsuit invites an interesting discussion on the state of employer-employee relationships during a pandemic. One question comes to mind that will likely determine the success of future lawsuits. If business implements policies to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and its employees refuse to comply, can the business still be liable for the spread of the disease amongst its employees? The answer may vary by where you live. In Florida, employers who maintain worker compensation insurance are generally not liable to employees for workplace negligence. There are exceptions and you should check with a workplace lawyer before making any decision on whether and how to proceed.
Although this COVID-19 lawsuit claims to be the first, it will certainly not be the last. As society struggles to deal with the Coronavirus, laws will evolve to adapt to the circumstances. Business owners will be faced with hard decisions. How far do you have to go to ensure the safety of your workers? Is it enough to simply follow governmental guidelines or should business owners go above and beyond to protect themselves from liability? It is too soon to know. As the weeks of staying at home and social distancing continue to pass, the picture will likely become clearer. At a minimum, businesses and individuals must follow social distancing and basic sanitation guidelines.
If you or a loved one believe you may have contracted Coronavirus due to employer negligence, you may be able to seek damages from those responsible. It is crucial that you have a proven Florida workplace negligence attorney in your corner.
At Mase Mebane & Briggs, our Florida workplace liability lawyers have decades of combined experience fighting for our clients in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. We know how courts and juries often look at these cases. Our results speak for themselves.