The pandemic spawns a litany of litigation
It is a sure bet that lots of lawyers have not stopped working during the quarantine. Judging from the number of COVID-19-related lawsuits that have been filed, lawyers may be the most fully employed of all the occupations, excluding health care workers.
The number of lawsuits stemming from the pandemic increases every day. Some of the suits seem legit, while others appear far-reaching, and some just make you mad.
Cities and towns are suing their governors for either not acting fast enough to issue a call for quarantine or for not acting quickly enough to lift business restrictions so communities can try to get back to normal again.
Two states, Missouri and Mississippi, are suing China for unleashing the viral scourge and failing to warn the global population.
Students are suing their universities for either remaining open too long, thus potentially exposing them to the COVID-19 virus, or for closing promptly and refusing to quickly offer tuition and room-and-board refunds.
Airlines and ticket brokers have been sued for canceling flights or events. Amusement parks, ski resorts and gyms have been sued for failure to refund customers on prepaid passes or memberships. There are lawsuits against nursing homes alleging the wrongful deaths of elderly residents. Other suits decry the initial lack of protective gear for health care workers. Litigation has commenced against banks that first helped existing customers apply for federal loans ahead of others. Cruise lines have been sued, and so has Fox News after a host called the pandemic a “hoax.” A strip club sued for the right to get federal pandemic recovery money. Target Corp. was sued for misleading claims about the germ-killing ability of its hand sanitizer.
Countless workers across the country are suing employers for “allowing” them to be exposed to the virus. Business owners are suing insurance companies for refusing to make them whole following mandatory government closures. But insurance carriers have been quick to point out that a majority of “business interruption insurance” covers loss of income due to fire, flood or other disasters, but not loss of income because of viruses or bacteria.
However, take the case of the Houston-based Star Cinema Grill theater chain. It paid some $40,000 in premiums for a $1 million “pandemic event” insurance policy, which, reportedly, promised to “vaccinate your bottom line” during an outbreak. Yet when the chain tried to collect, their attorney says, they were told COVID-19 losses were not covered because it is “not a named disease.” We’ll see how that plays out.
The sheer number of these lawsuits is out of control. And unless wise judges quash the questionable suits, attorneys will be busy litigating them for years.
We have adopted a philosophy in the U.S. that some person or entity must be held responsible for every act of nature, accident, random crime or malady that befalls us. It is hard to say if the lawyers interjected this idea upon the citizenry or if the professional victims among us went crying to clever lawyers who saw a lucrative opening. But there it is, the new American motto: When something bad happens, someone must pay.
Trillions in federal money has been doled out to keep businesses afloat so American workers have jobs to go back to. But think about it. Will shuttered business owners take the risk of reopening if they are worried that an employee who contracts the virus might then file a costly lawsuit blaming them for resuming operations too soon or for not being vigilant enough? Where does the personal responsibility of the worker to keep himself or herself safe come into play? Will some of the taxpayer-provided rescue money somehow be diverted to pay off such lawsuits?
This pandemic will pass, but it will leave many of us with lingering fears. In the meantime, it will continue to attract those who view this crisis as an opportunity to make money.
Yes, lawyers provide a valuable service. But, like any profession, there are the unscrupulous who manufacture reasons to file grievances, deliberately target deep-pocket businesses both large and small, and file opportunistic claims with dollar signs in their eyes. These predatory practices are not new, but when they happen in times of national crisis, the perpetrators should be ashamed.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com.