Covid-19 spawns litigation

As the economic effects from the Covid-19 pandemic continue to grow, an initial wave of coronavirus-related litigation is already underway.

There has been an uptick in workers’ compensation filings by employees who seek benefits for Covid-19-related illness they claim to have developed during the course and scope of their jobs. The cruise industry in particular has likewise taken a hit. As we have seen in the news, some carriers have lost their port of call privileges, stranding not only their ships, but thousands of passengers and crew who have been prohibited from disembarking for fear of spreading the virus. The sudden deprivation of civil liberties is fertile ground for legal action. Also, at least one cruise operator is the target of a class action lawsuit by crewmembers who allege that they have been unreasonably exposed to health risks by their employer’s failure to implement adequate protections against infection.

These examples likely represent only the tip of the iceberg. And because these are uncharted waters, only time will tell how deeply entrenched the court dockets will become with this new strain of legal claims.

To further compound the challenges brought on by this influx of novel legal actions, those serving the judicial system have had to operate at a reduced capacity through “stay-at-home” orders and similar quarantine-related restrictions. Moreover, many of the rules that lawyers, judges and litigants typically live by have been upended. Courts across the U.S. have curtailed operations to handle only the most pressing legal matters. Litigants have seen many rigid deadlines suspended and trials postponed indefinitely.

Even more drastically, the legislative and judicial branches in many states have declared that statutes of limitations are on hold, effectively granting opportunities to file otherwise time-barred lawsuits.

Because virtually every industry and profession have been affected by the fallout from Covid-19, none are immune from the legal ramifications that inevitably follow a crisis of this magnitude.

But in keeping with the old adage of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, individuals and businesses alike should exercise safe work practices and sound judgment to minimize exposure to further harm from the rising tide of legal liabilities.

About the author

Daniel J. Hoerner

Daniel J. Hoerner is a maritime attorney with Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett LLC.

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