With vaccinations up and cases mostly on a downward trend, one might think the threat of Covid is coming to an end. While in some ways it is, in others ways-its holding strong. The pandemic has introduced a precarious situation of having to put the blame for a spreading infection onto a specific party as people seek financial compensation for losses incurred due to Covid-19. And as businesses continue to face fines and legal obligations into 2022, it's important to be aware of professional responsibility in regards to the pandemic, as well steps one can take to protect themselves and their employees.
Pandemic Related Lawsuits Expected to Increase
Back in 2020, many states enacted Covid-19 liability protection laws amidst the rising threat of lawsuits. These legislations protect businesses and individuals against lawsuits, liability, and injury claims caused by Covid-19. These laws essentially gave protection to businesses that were following standard pandemic-related guidelines, as the guidelines were considered reasonable efforts to minimize the risk. They were certainly a good step in reducing lawsuits, but recent events have shown that there is still a lot of grey area in regards to who can be at fault for Covid.
More recently, The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries reportedly fined three companies a combined amount of $285,000 for allegations of putting employees at risk of exposure to Covid. The companies at fault include United Natural Foods Inc., along with Capstone Logistics LLC and Prime 360. They were each reported to have failed to adhere to basic Covid-19 regulations and safety requirements. The allegations claim that upon knowledge of positive Covid-19 tests, the companies failed to contact trace, inform other employees of positive cases, or require masks for non-vaccinated employees.
These types of claims are largely made through workers' compensation policies. Pre-pandemic worker's compensation claims were a relatively streamlined process. At this point, it's sort of up in the air regarding who is liable, and whether or not insurance policies should be covering the contraction of Covid.
“Take Home Covid” Litigations for Workers Compensation
Companies are facing lawsuits over the transmission of Covid-19 from employees to their families and friends. The growing liability known as “take-home” lawsuits are appearing more frequently across the nation and has the potential to cost companies a large sum of money. According to a recent article published by Reuters, there have been at least 23 take-home COVID-19 lawsuits across the United States. Though most are in the early stages with the chance of being appealed, some have made it to sentencing.
A recent ruling in a California worker's compensation case sought damages from a business over allegations of violating safety protocols and setting off a chain of infections beyond the company's premises. This chain resulted in the death of an employee’s husband. The company was deemed at fault and are expected to pay the family accordingly. Though it has been rare for these cases to result in a settlement, businesses are now concerned that the lawsuit will influence other state judicial systems to follow suit and deem the companies negligible in similar “take-home” cases.
David Walsh, lead editor of Infectious Disease Litigation: Science, Law, and Procedure, said in a recent interview with Business Insider that, “Thus far, outside of the workers comp world, we’ve generally seen a very limited number of lawsuits related to tracking COVID. Now that the courts have allowed these cases to proceed, I think that's going to change — we're going to see more of those types of lawsuits,”. The concern for these kinds of cases is that liability is being placed where it may not belong. Some argue that its a personal responsibility to not bring Covid home, while others agree its a responsibility of the workplace to enforce stricter regulations. Either way, if business want to avoid the issue all together, regulatory improvements are the answer.
Protecting Your Business From Covid Related Claims
Reducing your risk of facing these evolving lawsuits boils down to diligence and effort. Companies should be not only coming up with strong prevention programs but ensuring both employees and clients are following the regulations. This advice is twofold. On the one hand, by keeping your space clean and sanitized, contact tracing any known positive cases, and maintaining social distancing when needed you will reduce the likelihood of a Covid-19 outbreak. In the event that it does occur, you have evidence of your strong protocols and therefore won’t be deemed negligent.
It's also important to keep up to date with any state legislation or regulations. Does your state now require vaccines? Are masks required for nonvaccinated employees? Are you supposed to be testing on a weekly basis? Making sure you’re aware of the current expectations will give you additional defense in the event of a lawsuit. At this point, there’s no saying for sure how the trend for take-home lawsuits and litigation will look in the coming months. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Covid-19-its better to prepare for the worst and be ready for anything.
Learn More About ECBM
As a leading consulting and brokerage firm, ECBM has the experts you need to keep your business and personal assets protected. With constant changes in the industry and an unpredictable professional landscape, we’re here to keep you up to date on the most important. Contact us today for more information on our expert services.