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Can You Sue a Business You Never Went Into for Catching COVID-19?

By Andrew Leonatti | Last updated on

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is rampaging across the country. At the same time, it is apparent that Americans have no appetite for more harsh restrictions and mitigations. In short, that means you have a pretty high chance of catching this if you are frequently out around crowds of people.

And a recent ruling by a California court in a wrongful death case has businesses in the state and across the country nervous about a potential "never-ending" spiral of liability lawsuits. But some states are taking action to cut back on these lawsuits.

Recent 'Take-Home' Ruling in California a First

The case involves a man who was killed by COVID-19 after allegedly contracting the disease from his wife, who contracted the disease at work.

The widow's lawsuit against her employer alleges that she had to work inches away from sick coworkers. The most recent ruling involved the Second District of the California Court of Appeal allowing the case against See's Candies Inc., to proceed. It is the first ruling allowing a lawsuit seeking compensation against a business for a "take-home" case of COVID-19 to proceed.

The candy company can still appeal to the Supreme Court of California. Note that this appellate process only deals with the case being allowed to proceed. If the family prevails in this step, the case would still need to go to trial or settlement negotiations.

Will There Be Other Cases?

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are worried the case could inspire other courts to allow similar cases to move forward.

So far there have been a handful of "take-home" cases filed against large employers like Amazon, Walmart, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Southwest Airlines for allegedly ignoring COVID-19 protocols, leading to infections. Judges have already dismissed some for failing to prove these businesses owed a duty of care not just to their employees, but to employees' family members and acquaintances. None of these cases have come close to a jury.

Liability Shield Laws Enacted

While a flood of business liability lawsuits has yet to arrive, a majority of states have already taken measures to avoid one. So far, at least 30 states have passed laws broadly shielding most businesses from liability for COVID-19 cases affecting the general public, customers, and employees.

In many of these state laws, plaintiffs would have to prove that businesses violated protocols and engaged in serious misconduct by violating public health orders. As many of these states relax their protocols, it will be harder to prove that businesses failed to make a good-faith effort to follow guidance. In essence, it raises the bar for a successful lawsuit.

These laws are similar in nature to what Republicans in Congress have been seeking since the start of the pandemic.

Talk to a Lawyer First

It is important to note that while the California case is moving forward, proving that you caught a virus due to a business's negligence will be difficult. You may even live in one of the states mentioned above, which means suing a business for catching COVID-19 is a nonstarter.

If you or someone in your family contracted COVID-19 while someplace that you feel was being negligent with virus safety or violating local ordinances, your first move should be to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can help you understand the law, your rights and options, and what it would take to mount a successful lawsuit.

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