The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is having an unprecedented impact not only on personal lives and the economy, but on the law as well.
New laws have been put in place to respond to the pandemic, and novel legal issues are rapidly arising because of it.
In the personal injury arena, a “hot” issue right now is whether you can sue someone for exposing you to COVID-19.
So far, potential defendants for such cases (referred to here as “COVID-19 transmission cases”) include:
- Uber drivers
- Cruise Lines
- Nursing homes, and
- The government.
Although disease-transmitting cases are not unheard of, COVID-19 transmission cases present new and different challenges of proof.
COVID-19 and General Negligence Principles.
Like all personal injury cases, a COVID-19 transmission case is a tort claim. Tort claims are generally predicated on general negligence principles. To prevail in proving a tort claim against someone, you must prove all the essential elements of a tort.
In Georgia, as in most states, the 4 elements of negligence are:
- Causation (actual and proximate cause)
Briefly, what this means in the context of a COVID-19 transmission case is that in order to prevail on your action, you must prove:
- that the person who infected you had a duty of reasonable care towards you
- which he/she breached, and that
- as a result of that breach you got COVID-19, and
- were damaged.
Sounds simple enough.
And in many cases, like car accidents for example, it is fairly simple. To prevail in a car accident case, (putting aside contributory negligence concepts for the moment) the plaintiff has to prove: that the other driver had a duty (to drive carefully), which he breached (e.g., he ran a red light), and that breach caused the accident, which injured (caused damages) the plaintiff.
But in the context of a COVID-19 transmission case, it’s not that easy.
Negligence and COVID-19.
First, there is the problem of proving that the person who exposed you was negligent.
Generally this means that you will be required to prove that the person who exposed you to COVID-19 knew or had reason to know that he had the disease, yet knowingly exposed you to it anyway. A major difficulty here is the fact that with COVID-19, it can take up to 14 days before the symptoms begin to show up and people who may be carrying the disease don’t even know they have it. But unless the person who spread the disease knew or had reason to know that he did have it, in all likelihood he will probably not be found negligent.
Another major hurdle to personal injury actions based on COVID-19 transmission is the issue of damages.
While it has been said that “anyone can sue anybody for anything,” it is important to keep in mind that litigation is time-consuming and expensive. So unless you have significant damages, you probably do not have a lawsuit worth pursuing.
Generally speaking, (there are exceptions of course) if another person exposes you to COVID-19 and you get the disease, it is unlikely that you will have significant (or any) money damages.
Due to the fact that most people have already been furloughed or laid off from their jobs, if you are not still working when you get sick, you probably won’t be able to claim any lost wages. Plus, while you may get sick, the COVID-19 symptoms generally are mild and do not require hospitalization. Therefore, you will probably not have significant medical costs. As a result, you may not have “damages” sufficient to support legal action.
While seeking legal redress is important, it is equally important to always fully analyze your case before filing a lawsuit.
Personal Injury Attorneys in Cumming, Georgia.
The personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C., are here to help you. We serve clients in Atlanta, and in a number of counties throughout Georgia, including: Clayton County, Cobb County, Dekalb County, Douglas County, Fulton County, and Paulding County, among others. To find out how we can help you, call us at: 770-888-7707. Or contact us here.