Do I have any legal rights if I get the coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Well, it depends. Before you think about your legal rights (which we address below), you need to make sure you keep yourself and others safe.
We also encourage you to think about how you can have sympathy for people trying to help and trying to manage these unprecedented circumstances. In particular, medical professionals will likely be under tremendous strain in the next few months, and many may catch the virus trying to help you or people like you. Your first thought should not be "who can I sue because of this". Your first thought should be how can I help my fellow neighbor. It is times like this where we need to come together as a community and do what we can to help. With that said, you may be impacted by COVID-19 and you may have certain legal rights.
Employers and fellow Americans still owe a duty of care to other people in certain circumstances and there may be insurance available if you are unable to work. In fact, an elevated duty arises when there are elevated dangers or elevated risks. Coronavirus is an elevated danger for a couple of reasons:
certain people are at higher risk of serious injury or death from COVID-19; and
contracting the virus can impact your ability to work or a family member’s ability to work.
Before we address what legal rights and legal obligations may arise in connection with the coronavirus, here is what you need to know about COVID-19.
Everyone, in all countries, has a responsibility to take measures to try to stop the spread of the virus. This is for your safety, and for the safety of your family and your community. Here is what has been reported about the virus so far.
How infectious is COVID-19?
The current information from the CDC is as follows:
"COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected."
The CDC also currently believes that people are the most contagious when they are showing the most symptoms. As everyone should now be aware, the coronavirus is highly contagious and medical professionals are still trying to figure out exactly what is the rate of infection.
What steps can you take to prevent yourself from contracting the virus?
Courtesy of the World Health Organization, here are the common steps everyone should take to try to prevent being infected by COVID-19.
wash your hands frequently;
maintain social distancing (try to stay 6 fee away from other people and don't shake hands);
avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth;
practice your respiratory hygiene (cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze); and
if you have a cough, fever or difficulty breathing, get medical attention early.
It may sound callous, because who should think about a legal claim when there is a national emergency? First, nobody should ever bring a frivolous claim or use the legal system to their advantage. Bar associations across the country mandate lawyers, as part of their ethical obligations to the public, not to advance any frivolous claims (claims that don’t have merit or are for illegitimate purposes). Do not think about how you can use this situation to your advantage. Lawyers should be part of the solution at these times, not create further problems.
With that said, there are a lot of people who have been and will continue to be impacted physically and financially because of the coronavirus. There may also be insurance proceeds available to help you at this time if you cannot work.
As noted above, elevated risks result in an elevated duty to employers and care providers. The law also recognizes the fact that when unforeseeable circumstances or rare circumstances occur, people don’t always make the right decisions and you cannot necessarily bring a claim against someone just because that person doesn’t make the right or perfect decision. While an employer or medical provider does owe you a legal duty, when they are trying to determine how to respond and there is no clear standard for how to respond, the law is understanding and forgiving in these circumstances. With that said, if someone still makes an obvious error or intentional mistake, you may have a legal claim against them.
Maybe. There are workers’ compensation insurance regimes in every state that may potentially be applicable if you contracted the virus at work and are now unable to work (it is unclear what coverage may apply, and results may vary from state to state - speaking with a lawyer will be important). You may also have personal illness or disability insurance that is available through your work benefits that may provide you with some compensation if you are unable to work.
If you think you may have contracted COVID-19 at work and are unable to work for a period of time as a result (and will lose some income), it is important that you try to assess how/when you contracted the virus and speak with a lawyer to see if you may be entitled to workers' compensation or other insurance benefits as a result. You can connect with lawyers here.
Second, all employers owe a duty of care to their employers, and that duty includes creating a safe working environment. Employers are currently in a precarious position. On one hand, they have ongoing commitments to third parties and a desire to keep people employed, and there is an importance to keeping commerce going.
Ongoing commerce is important to help ensure we all have resources we need in a time like this, but to also ensure the business can survive (and provide a future source of employment). On the other hand, businesses need to create safe working environments and help mitigate the spread of the virus. There are no easy decisions right now - and it is important everyone understands that.
Employers have a duty of care to take steps to keep their employees safe. How does this work for unprecedented circumstances like a pandemic? Everyone is trying to figure out what measures to take and what are best practices for this unprecedented event. With that said, if your employer clearly failed to take reasonable steps to keep you employed as a result of the virus or failed to take reasonable steps to prevent you from contracting the virus (and you are now injured or lost income), you may have a legal claim.
The medical system is going to be under tremendous strain over the next few months and we all need to be thankful for having a world class medical system with world class medical professionals. These are people who will be put in harms way to help you and others. Your appreciation, patience and understanding is required.
While there isn’t really any recent legal precedent for a situation like this, one would believe that courts would be reluctant to impose liability on hospitals or medical providers under the current circumstances unless there is egregious conduct. We need our medical providers at this time. We need people to step up and help the community. We should be appreciative of those that are putting themselves in harms way to help others. Our medical providers will likely be overworked and tired. Mistakes will likely be made. Simple mistakes shouldn't you can bring a legal claim in all instances. We would expect that courts would have the same appreciation for our medical providers and be reluctant to impose liability on health care providers for making mistakes at this time.
With that said, medical professionals still owe you a duty of care, and that includes not being careless. If there is an egregious or obvious error which should not have been made which has resulted in you contracting the virus or being further injured or harmed by the virus, you may have a claim.
If your employer shuts down work temporarily because of coronavirus risks, you should first speak with your employer to see what workers’ compensation or other insurance may be available to compensate you or your employer (so your employer can compensate you) for these claims. As noted above, you should also consider what personal insurance benefits may be available to you (i.e. critical illness insurance). If you are dismissed (fired) because of the impacts of the coronavirus, you should still have your typically common law rights/claims against your employer under these circumstances for wrongful dismissal and its important that you find the right lawyer to help you with your potential claim.
First, do not go out in public or go to work if you are feeling sick. If you were to knowingly go to work when you have the virus, there could be some risk to you (i.e. could your employer terminate your employment or could another claim be brought against you if you infect others when you already know you are sick?). There is not a lot of precedent here. You typically owe your fellow workers a duty of care. What is the nature of that duty? Well, it is taking reasonable steps to avoid harming other people. If you know you are a carrier of the coronavirus and you infect other people at work, there could be some risk of you assuming some legal liability towards your employer or to others.
Regardless of the legal framework that may apply, if you have the coronavirus, you should self-isolate yourself for at least 14 days so not to risk passing the virus to others.
There isn’t any one lawyer that specializes in “virus law”, but a lot of the issues that could arise as a result of being infected by the coronavirus are similar to the issues that are typically resolved by a personal injury lawyer. So, how do you find the right lawyer if you are looking to find a lawyer with respect to whether you might have a claim arising from being infected with the coronavirus?
To help find you the right lawyer if you think you may have a claim or if you want to see if you may have a claim, you can use Adidem and let Adidem do the work for you.
At Adidem, we use software to simplify the process to hire a personal injury lawyer and to provide you with the relevant information you need to help decide which is the best personal injury lawyer near you to hire.
We also allow any lawyer to sign-up to use Adidem. No restrictions, no-sign-up fee and no exclusivity with any particular firm or lawyer. Rather than you having to look for the right lawyer, we bring the legal market to you.
This is important, as Adidem:
can provide you with access to the broader legal market in your city without you needing to contact all those lawyers;
allows any lawyer with an opportunity to offer their services for your claim;
allows you to obtain information with respect to your claim to determine which lawyer you may want to hire; and
makes lawyers compete for your work.