Everyone knew that a storm of sorts was coming. Many businesses — non-essential and otherwise — remained open during the coronavirus pandemic. This resulted in many people becoming sick because they were allowed to work. Not all employers took the necessary precautions to protect them. Could those businesses be held liable for employee damages? What does insurance have to say about it? What about Workers Comp?
You can see that the equations judges have to balance are complicated — and the law might not have all the answers. But we finally have some insight into how judges are ruling in cases like these. Suffice it to say, judges are ruling against businesses in COVID-19 lawsuits.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School tracked COVID legislation starting early.
Many of the cases involved businesses that wanted insurance companies to cover COVID-19 losses because they had purchased “business interruption” policies. But the problem is simple: those policies rarely cover this kind of public health crisis. Business owners would have to voluntarily purchase a policy that does. Most don’t.
Judges ruled against business owners who built these lawsuits. The Penn data shows that there were thousands of such lawsuits over the past 12 months. In federal courts, insurers won lawsuits more than three-quarters of the time. Many more cases were “resolved” by the judge’s outright dismissal of the case.
Civil lawsuits are generally filed against the person or organization mostly responsible for financial damages. In this case, they should probably be filed against the United States government. The arguments would be obvious enough. The Trump administration failed to invoke many laws that would have increased production of PPE or attempted to standardize COVID restrictions from state to state. At the very least, he could have tried to limit travel. But in the name of business, that’s not what happened.
Unfortunately, those lawsuits would also fall flat — because the U.S. government would claim immunity.