COVID-19 Spawns Litigation

As the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, the next wave of this calamity is beginning to swell: litigation. Already, there has been an uptick in workers’ compensation filings by employees who seek benefits for Corona-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 played out on 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 form 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 proverbial iceberg. And because these are uncharted waters, only time will tell how deeply entrenched the court dockets will become with a 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 overcome operating at a reduced capacity through “stay-at-home” orders and similar quarantine-related restrictions. Moreover, many of the rules that we lawyers, judges and litigants typically live by have been up- ended. Courts across the country 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 somehow been impacted by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, none are immune from the legal ramifications that inevitably follow a crisis of this magnitude. But in keeping with the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, individuals and businesses alike can and should exercise safe work practices and sound judgment to minimize their exposure to further harm from the rising tide of legal liabilities.

This article was originally published in the May 2020 issue of WorkBoat magazine.