Negligent Transmission of COVID-19 / Coronavirus Can Lead to Liability
As a general principle of law, each of us is supposed to act reasonably and carefully around other people so as not to hurt anyone. When we don’t act that way, we are said to be negligent, and the person we hurt can sue us for damages. There have been a number of cases of negligent transmission of diseases. Given how the novel coronavirus spreads, the likelihood of a successful lawsuit against an infected person who is careless around other people seems good.
Transmission of the Coronavirus
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the novel coronavirus is most commonly transmitted when patients’ symptoms are at their worst. This is because common symptoms of COVID-19 are coughs and sneezes. When a person coughs or sneezes, the person spews out tiny droplets of saliva or mucus. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby and infect them. People are asked to stand at least six feet from one another to help avoid infection. People are also advised to wash their hands frequently and to avoid touching their mouths, noses or eyes.
Negligence is a common legal theory to recover damages from someone who has injured another person. Negligence is based on the legal duty we all have toward each other to act reasonably and prudently so that we don’t injure each other. The courts have not hesitated to hold defendants liable for negligently transmitting a communicable disease. Most of the cases are older because medical science has succeeded at eradicating many diseases or substantially shrinking the number of people who get them. But the courts have approved cases based on the negligent transmission of whooping cough, smallpox, tuberculosis, typoid fever and several types of venereal diseases. There is no reason to think that the courts will not hold defendants liable for negligently infecting people with COVID-19, if this is the case you will need to contact an qualified Coronavirus negligent transmission lawyer.
Hospital Acquired Infection
Not only individuals, but institutions such as hospitals, medical clinics and the like will become defendants for negligent transmission of the novel coronavirus. These types of cases commonly refer to a disease being contracted by “hospital acquired infection.” These infections are defined as acquired in the hospital by a patient who was admitted for a reason other than that infection. There are three significant causes of hospital acquired infection, all of which can be deemed negligence:
- The failure to wash one’s hands and don gloves between seeing patients
- Illness among hospital personnel that is transmitted to patients
- Inadequately cleaned equipment or clothing (such as a lab coat) that comes into direct or indirect contact with the patient
Transmission in Enclosed Spaces
To avoid COVID-19 infection, people are supposed to stay away from large groups and to keep at a social distance of at least six feet. But there are some places where these rules simply can’t be implemented. People are sometimes crammed together in hospital wards. The news reports an outbreak on one of the United States’ aircraft carriers, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. And of course there are jails and prisons where inmates live two to each small cell and mingle together during exercise periods.
But one avoidable type of disease transmission occurs in airplanes. Airplanes are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. A person can be exposed to disease directly such as when seated next to a sick person who sneezes on the person. In such cases, a case likely could be made against the sick person for negligent transmission of disease. But it could prove difficult to identify the defendant and perhaps even more so to demonstrate that the defendant, and not someone else, was the one who infected a person.
Airplanes rely on recycled air because they fly so high that they must. As the air becomes stale, there is a greater likelihood of droplets containing a virus to remain airborne and infect the passengers. According to a recent journal article, the airplanes on which we most often travel recirculate some 50% of the air. Although the air must pass through high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters before the air returns to the cabin, these filters are designed to remove dust, vapors and bacteria from the air. HEPA filters remove particles measuring 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. Many viruses are smaller than that and so are not captured by the filter. The novel coronavirus is among those not captured, at 0.125 microns.
If you have reason to believe that you have been negligently infected by the novel coronavirus, you should self-quarantine and if your symptoms get worse, seek medical attention. Once you have recovered, you should contact legal counsel to determine whether you can sue to recover your damages caused by the negligent infection.