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The First Wave of Covid-19 Workplace Lawsuits is Here

The First Wave of Covid-19 Workplace Lawsuits is Here

From an earlier post in the Advisory.com Daily Briefing:

Major employers nationwide are facing a wave of lawsuits filed by workers claiming they contracted the novel coronavirus as a result of their employer's negligence—a trend that's sparking debate over whether Congress should grant businesses liability protections during the epidemic.

Background

According to the Wall Street Journal, employers are "rarely … found liable for employee deaths tied to the workplace," both because there's a high legal bar for finding fault and because states frequently limit such complaints to employee compensation systems, which usually restrict payments based on the worker's salary or medical bills.

However, legal experts say the United States' coronavirus epidemic could reverse that trend, because the early round of liability lawsuits filed against employers are focused on whether employers followed state and federal guidance for combatting the virus' spread, such as the use of face masks and physical distancing. According to the experts, employers that failed to adhere to the guidance potentially could be found liable in court if their employees contract the coronavirus.

Overall, according to the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, as of late July, about 69 employment and labor lawsuits claiming that employees were exposed or potentially exposed to the new coronavirus had been filed.

Inside the lawsuits

Norma Zuniga filed one such lawsuit against Safeway and its parent company, Albertsons Companies, on behalf of her husband Pedro Zuniga, who died on April 13 from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Pedro worked in a Safeway distribution center in California. According to Paul Matiasic, a lawyer representing the Zuniga family, Pedro and other workers complained to their supervisors that their work environment wasn't safe, as some employees were still coming into work while they were sick.

On March 20, the company posted a memo titled "Coronavirus Risks: Fact vs. Fiction," which stated, "If you are healthy, a mask will not protect you from the respiratory drops an infected person coughs out. Open areas of the mask can let those drops in."

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