COVID-19 has shaken up the world, how we live and work. New legal issues are also coming up as we cope with the effects of the illness and how it impacts our health and livelihoods. One point coming up in several states is the legal liability of an employer whose worker gets sick on the job then spreads it to family members at home. Can infected family members successfully sue the employer because of their injuries?
Possibly. This is a developing area of law where plaintiffs get some adverse rulings, but exceptions exist. Like most personal injury cases, they’re potentially worth more as the person’s health worsens. If you and your family members got through infections without serious problems, legal action wouldn’t be worth the effort.
Different People Have Different Rights When It Comes to Compensation and COVID
If you were infected with COVID-19 at work and suffered severe complications, you may consider filing a workers’ compensation claim. The workers’ comp system pays for treating work-related injuries and illnesses. It also partially replaces lost wages and compensates employees for disabilities caused by work. If you make this claim, the burden would be on you to show you get the infection because of your work, not through your family or public exposure, which may be difficult.
If you became ill at work and spread it to family members, who became severely ill or died of the disease, we would need to resolve some critical legal issues before a lawsuit by family members would be successful. Workers’ comp is the exclusive injury remedy for work-related injuries.
If the employer’s sued in state court, the employer will seek dismissal on this ground. A court would need to decide if an infection suffered by family members falls under Kentucky workers comp law or could be compensated through a negligence claim in court.
California Case Ruling in Favor of Next of Kin of Husband and Father Killed by COVID
Matilde Ek, a California resident, claims she contracted COVID-19 where she worked, See’s Candies, Inc. She alleges the infection spread to family members, including her husband Arturo Ek, who died because of it. Matilde and her three daughters sued See’s Candies for wrongful death, reports Reuters.
The state’s Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, ruled family members were suing in their own right for the harm they suffered, and the case could go forward because workers’ comp laws didn’t apply in the case. The court saw the husband’s illness as the result of his relationship with his wife, more than with COVID.
Cases Against Employers Based on Their Failure to Maintain Safety Standards
At least 23 of these “take-home” COVID-19 cases have been filed in the country, all in the early stages of litigation. They include lawsuits against corporate giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Conagra Brands, according to Reuters. Six have been dismissed, and it appears two have settled.
Plaintiffs generally accuse defendants of negligence concerning COVID-19 protocols:
- Employees were packed into work vans
- Symptomatic workers stayed in company dorms
- Workers weren’t screened before entering a worksite, so those who were infected spread the infection
Plaintiffs sued for damages because workers’ children and spouses wound up on ventilators or died of the disease.
What’s Next for the Eks?
The Ek case wasn’t dismissed, but they haven’t won. The must next prove See’s Candies owed Arturo a duty of care. This is the first thing to be established in a negligence case. Was the relationship between him and the company such that they needed to take reasonable steps to protect him (not just his wife)? Was there an obligation by See’s Candies to do something more than how they should act toward the general public?
The other plaintiffs failed on this point in three of the six dismissed cases. If the Eks get past this hurdle, plaintiffs need to prove Arturo’s illness came from his wife’s workplace, despite the fact this widespread infection that’s impacted millions could’ve started many ways.
Take the Next Step and Contact Tyler Fleck for a Free Consultation
If your family has suffered severely from a case of COVID first caught on the job and want to learn more about your legal rights, call The Fleck Firm for a free consultation at (270) 446-7000. We are dedicated and compassionate when we fight for our clients. Insurance companies have lawyers. You should have one too.