Friday, March 27, 2020
History has shown us that many cases have been successfully brought concerning transmission of viruses or infectious disease, including during a pandemic. These past lawsuits pertaining to Ebola, H1N1 (swine flu), and HIV/AIDS, and can serve as an indication of whether you can sue a person or entity if you contract the novel coronavirus - COVID-19.
Several courts have ruled that a person has a claim against someone who passes on the HIV/Aids virus. The California Supreme Court in John B. v. Superior Court ruled that suits regarding the negligent transmission of sexual diseases, such as the HIV/AIDS virus, can proceed based on constructive knowledge. Indeed, because of the nature of the virus, some states have criminalized the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
The Supreme Court of Texas, in a February 2020 opinion, Coming Attractions Bridal and Formal, Inc. v. Texas Health Resources, addressed exposure to Ebola in a claim brought under the Texas Medical Liability Act. A nurse of a Dallas hospital helped care for a patient infected with Ebola, then went to Ohio to shop at a bridal shop. Once she returned to Dallas, she became ill and later diagnosed with Ebola herself. The bridal shop claimed the hospital where the nurse worked was negligent for failure to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus to the nurse and alleging that the hospital’s negligence caused the shop to close due to health concerns and adverse publicity because of the virus. The case was dismissed due to failure to file an expert report, not due to failure to state a claim. Another Ebola case in Texas was remanded for further proceedings.
In Ebaseh Onofa v. McAllen Hospitals, a 2015 Texas Court of Appeals case, husband alleged that his wife returned from her shift at the hospital not feeling well. The hospital had confirmed cases of H1N1 virus (swine flu) in the hospital. She admitted to the emergency room a few days later and died just two days after that. The husband sued for wrongful death because the wife was not offered an N95 mask and the court granted the hospital summary judgement. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that the husband "produced nothing more than speculation on the element of causation" because there were no positive H1N1 patients in the wife's unit. Therefore, although it was possible that the husband could sue for his wife’s contraction of the virus, he had to present some evidence of causation to survive summary judgment.
See Can You Sue Someone If You Get Coronavirus?, Probate Stars, March 26, 2020.