First and foremost, we at Mirick O’Connell hope that you and your family are healthy, and surviving the worst global pandemic in 100 years. As we move through the various stages of battling this virus, it is all but certain we will see major litigation arising out of it. That litigation will likely take many forms.
One sector likely to be hit hard is the cruise and travel industry. We have all heard the news stories about cruise ships being stuck on the water for weeks, as the COVID-19 illness spreads through a huge percentage of the passengers. There will likely be claims in the coming months and years that these ships should not have ever left port with a very predictable outbreak on the horizon, and also claims that once the outbreak worsened, they should have returned before infection rates reached these levels. Claims such as these will be easier to establish than some other claims of infection, as there will often be no doubt as to where an infected person contracted the illness.
Another contentious area of litigation that will arise out of COVID-19 will be insurance bad-faith claims and insurance coverage litigation. There has already been significant publicity surrounding insurance coverage issues for restaurants that have been forced to close by state and local governments. Many insurance policies have exclusions for bacterial or viral outbreaks, and insurance companies will likely fight hard against paying these claims. Already, businesses are claiming they do not need to pay rent, pursuant to force majeure clauses.
A third area of litigation will be against hospitals and health care facilities, arising out of the way they have treated infected patients and potentially exposed workers. Thankfully, health care workers are being treated as heroes for the ways in which they have handled the deluge of sickness in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. Where we may see litigation is by these health care workers who have been forced to work, sometimes not given masks or protection, and then go home and spread infection to their families and loved ones. One can hope that these front-line heroes will be treated with the respect they deserve after helping us get through this pandemic.
Finally, we will undoubtedly see litigation involving various businesses and properties where people unwittingly- or negligently- spread infection. Some examples of these areas where the virus has spread include:
- Businesses with non-essential workers;
- Correctional facilities, where inmates are exposed to high concentrations of the virus;
- Commercial property owners; and,
- Grocery stores that failed to take precautions to slow the spread of the virus.
For all people, the time is now to take critical steps to ensure that we are not spreading the virus unnecessarily. Unfortunately, when we see spring-breakers on Florida beaches, and others refusing to abide by social distancing, we know that not all people are taking the warnings seriously. Hopefully people will listen to what the doctors are telling us, and the spread of this horrible virus can be slowed.