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Checking the Temperature on COVID-19 Lawsuits

CHECKING THE TEMPERATURE ON COVID-19 LAWSUITS

Jason A. Benkner

A major concern of this unprecedented pandemic relates to an employer’s potential liability for workers contracting COVID-19 on the job. Indeed, it has been a major discussion and negotiation point in Congress in past, and potentially future, stimulus bills. With some distance between the start of the pandemic in March 2020, it appears that the worst-case scenario of these fears has not come to fruition.

According to Lex Machina, Inc., an IP litigation research company and extension of LexisNexis, new case filings related to coronavirus decreased in August and declined even further to 588 in November 2020. In its first report, Lex Mechina reported 173 tort cases related to COVID-19, the vast majority of which were filed against cruise lines and nursing homes. This is somewhat significant for what it does not show, which are large swaths of lawsuits filed in the restaurant and local business sectors.

Interestingly, the largest group of COVID-19 lawsuits (1,400 of a total 6,900) were actually filed by restaurants, bars, and businesses against their insurance carriers after state and local governments ordered shutdowns.

With vaccinations set in motion, and a declining number of reported COVID-19 related lawsuits, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for business owners who have had to make tough decisions balancing health and safety concerns against the need to keep the lights on.