Hundreds COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits Filed But Can They Win?

West Palm Beach, Fla. – More than a thousand COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits have been filed since the pandemic began in early 2020, against employers for allegedly failing to keep employees safe. But can they win?

What are the precedents for a COVID-19 wrongful death case and do these cases what can family members expect when filing a COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit?

The short answer is: we just don’t know yet.

As with the entire pandemic, we are entering into new territory. Employers will have to learn how to maintain a level of safety that employees not only find comfortable but that is legally up to standard or they may be facing wrongful death lawsuits as well.

COVID-19 lawsuits

Important Covid-19 Cases

Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc.

The family of deceased deli worker, Gerardo Gutierrez, filed suit against Publix for forbidding workers from using masks at which time the 70-year old grocer allegedly contracted COVID-10 and passed away. This case is getting statewide attention on the Tampa Bay Times and Sun-Sentinel.

Lanzo v. Generations Behavioral Health

The wife of deceased nurse Raymond Lanzo, who worked at a mental health facility alleges that the facility failed, refused, or was negligent in following COVID-19 guidelines issued by the state of Ohio, which lead to her husband’s exposure.

The plaintiff is seeking more than $25,000 in damages, including medical bills and funeral expenses.

Norwood v. Rodi Marine LLC

The wife of Michael Norwood, a deceased crew member on a supply vessel off the coast, filed suit against the shipping company for putting her husband in danger. Norwood was dispatched to Alabama to perform services for the company which led to his exposure.

The plaintiff did not identify a specific sum of alleged damages.

Elijah v. Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation

The wife of Mr. Elijiah, a diseased power rail mechanic, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that her husband was exposed to COVID-19 when he embraced a co-worker who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The plaintiff did not identify a specific sum of alleged damages.

Iniguez v. Aurora Packing Company, Inc.

The administrator of a deceased woman’s estate alleges that the meatpacking company who employed the deceased woman’s husband, was negligent and allowed the husband to contract COVID-19, and he, in turn, infected his wife who died.

The plaintiff has not discussed a specific amount for damages.

Montgomery v. Prevarian Senior Living, LP

The family members of a deceased assisted facility worker allege gross negligence on the part of the defendant for not implementing the necessary safety protocols and increasing the deceased’s risk of exposure to VCOVID-19 which lead to their death.

The plaintiffs have not released how much they are seeking in damages.

In the last 2 COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiffs assert that the employers had a minimum duty of care to provide a safe workplace that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure. (National Law Review)

Is there a Case Here?

One of the main hurdles that face anyone plaintiff filing a COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit will be proving that the deceased contracted the virus at their place of employment.

In the now very public case of Gerardo Gutierrez, the Publix grocery store worker who died from COVID-19, whose family is now suing the chain, is alleging that he was infected while at work. The personal injury lawyer, Michael Levine who represents the family, said that he would not have to prove definitively that Gutierrez contracted the virus at work, but would rather only need to prove “’a preponderance of evidence’ — the standard civil suits used to assess liability — that ‘more likely than not, that’s where he got it.’” (Sun-Sentinel)

Another hurdle that faces all COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits is dealing with the virus itself. CDC guidelines have changed and so have medical opinions. In the case of Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., Publix alleges it was following CDC Guidelines that asked people not to wear masks. Later it was revealed that the guideline/statement was misleading, and it was thought that it may have ensured that the public did not overstock on much-needed face masks.

What Employers Can do To Avoid COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits

All employers should take the following precautions to avoid liability and to safeguard their staff.

Guidelines: First and foremost, all employers should follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses, the Guidelines for Cleaning, and Disinfecting the workplace. Additionally, ensure that upper management remains up to date on current guidelines.

Working from Home: Any employee that exhibits symptoms or who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should be separated. Consider quarantining employees who have an exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case, found at the CDC’s Public Health Recommendations for Community Exposure.

Education: Consider issuing regular updates to all employees to ensure they remain informed and allow them to communicate grievances with upper management comfortably and openly.

Inform: Consider letting all employees know when there has been a confirmed cased in the company and allow them to make the informed decision to work from home if that option is available.

There will be many more COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits in the future. As more precedents are set in place, and as the guidelines for safety are refined, we can all expect that the number of COVID-19 lawsuits will only increase. The statute of limitation on wrongful death is usually about 2 years, but in these circumstances, we may find courts granting more time and leniency due to the still unknown elements of a COVID-19 lawsuit.

 

About The Author

Michael Steinger

Michael Steinger

The Florida BarFlorida Bar Young Lawyers DivisionMillion Dollar Advocates ForumMillion Dollar Advocates ForumBest Workers Compensation Attorneys in MiamiBest Car Accident Lawyers in MiamiLawyers of distinction

MICHAEL S. STEINGER, founding partner of Steinger, Greene & Feiner, believes in representing real people, not big businesses. Since the firm’s creation in 1997, Steinger, Greene & Feiner has never represented an insurance company or large corporation, and he vows to keep this promise. Over the course of his career, Michael has handled thousands of Florida accident cases, recovering millions of dollars for his clients and earning him membership into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving laws protecting injury victims and their families, Michael is an active member of the American Bar Association, the Palm Beach, and St. Lucie Bar Associations, and sits on the Auto Insurance Committee of the Florida Justice Association.