Wrongful Death Lawsuits Involving Coronavirus / COVID-19
When we think of a claim for wrongful death, we normally think of an accident such as a car crash. However, claims for wrongful death can arise from a variety of situations. Although claims based on transmission of a disease are unusual, they do exist. For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a woman unknowingly infected her pregnant friend with a common virus called CMV, the mother could sue for the wrongful death of her child who had been infected with CMV before being born. The court allowed a lawsuit against the friend’s physician to proceed because the physician did not warn the woman to stay away from her pregnant friend.
Given the wide spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, there have been over 1,000 fatalities in the United States alone at this writing. Many of the deceased became infected with the virus despite their best efforts, and the best efforts of everyone around them, to avoid contagion. However, some caught the disease, and died, because others were careless around them. The law permits compensation for their deaths.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death describes a type of lawsuit brought when one person breaches a legal duty to another person and the other person dies as a result of that breach. A wrongful death can be based upon an intentional act such as murder. It more commonly results from negligence. A case for negligence exists when one person fails to act reasonably and prudently and that failure hurts someone else.
The news has covered examples where transmission of the novel coronavirus amounted to negligence:
- People congregating closely together on beaches despite warnings to stay at least ten feet apart and avoid large gatherings.
- A person who went to a “coronavirus party” and came down with the disease.
- The woman who thought it would be funny to cough and sneeze on the produce at the grocery store. No one knows whether she had the disease when she did that.
If these people transmitted the coronavirus to others, and a death occurred, a case for wrongful death could arise.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
The law of wrongful death varies among the states. In all states, spouses, children and parents of unmarried children can recover damages for the wrongful death of a loved one. In some states, more distant family members such as brothers, sisters and grandparents can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Some states allow people who suffered a financial loss from the person’s death to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for loss of care and support even when they were unrelated to the victim. Finally, in some states, A parent can sue for the wrongful death of a fetus.
Who Can be Sued? – Of course, the person who caused the wrongful death can be sued. But liability also can extend to other persons or even companies or institutions. For example, the employer of a driver who negligently kills someone while driving the company car can be held liable for the death. Defects in products – whether in design or manufacture – can lead to liability. Another unfortunate example is the bar or restaurant that allowed an employee to serve excessive amounts of alcohol to a person who then drove while intoxicated and caused a death.
What Compensation is Available for a Wrongful Death?
The damages available for wrongful death vary according to state law. But there are two general categories of damages. First, there are the damages that the deceased suffered. Second are the damages that those who survived suffered and will suffer.
Sometimes, a person is killed instantly and therefore suffers no pain or fear before dying. Other times, a length of time passes between the injury and death. Under those circumstances, the deceased’s representatives can sue for the deceased’s pain and suffering. They might also be able to sue for what the deceased would have experienced had the person lived, such as spending family time, doing well in school or participating in pastimes. These types of damages would be in addition to the cost of any medical care and the funeral.
The second type of damage suffered is to the persons left behind. For example, a surviving spouse normally has a claim for the loss of the companionship of the deceased plus emotional trauma from the death. Children and parents of the deceased may also be awarded damages for the loss of the deceased’s companionship.
The law also allows punitive or exemplary damages. These damages can be awarded when the defendant acted with gross negligence or intent to harm the deceased.
If a loved one has died as a result of negligent transmission of the coronavirus, you should consult experienced wrongful death counsel as soon as possible.