If My Loved One Dies or Becomes Critically Ill from the Coronavirus, Can I Bring a Lawsuit?

On April 6, 2020, the estate of a deceased man, Toney Evans, sued Walmart in state court in Illinois, alleging that Walmart was responsible for Mr. Evans’ death. Mr. Evans, a Walmart employee, died on March 25 from coronavirus. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Evans contracted coronavirus from other Walmart employees.

Tragically, over 18,000 Americans have already died from coronavirus. As of the date of this post, fewer than 20 Mainers have died. While there is an extraordinary amount of uncertainty about the extent of the overall toll of this virus, various studies suggest that, by later this year, Maine could experience more than 1000 deaths. As a healthcare crisis no one expected, the coronavirus is challenging us in ways we never could have imagined and presenting difficult and often heart-breaking questions for individuals and families.

If someone dies or becomes critically ill from the coronavirus, will any of the families of these victims have viable lawsuits? Potentially. It will depend on the circumstances surrounding the victim’s contraction of the virus.

In order to succeed in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove three things:

  1. that the defendant has a duty to the plaintiff
  2. that the defendant breached that duty
  3. that the breach caused an injury.

Employers, like Walmart, have a responsibility not to expose their employees to needless danger. Likewise, healthcare facilities, like nursing homes, are required to exercise care to keep patients safe. We also have duties to strangers. For example, people have a duty not to crash their car into someone else’s car. If a person has coronavirus, they have a duty to take reasonable steps not to needlessly put strangers at risk. In fact, given that many of us may be “silent carriers” of the disease, it could be argued that, during this crisis, all of us have a duty to assume we have the virus, and to take steps to protect others from contracting the virus from us.

The trickiest part of a personal injury lawsuit in this circumstance will be proving that the defendant actually caused the injury.  Perhaps an employer was negligent in failing to take steps to protect an employee from the coronavirus, but that does not mean, necessarily, that the employer’s negligence was the cause of the victim contracting the virus. Maybe the victim contracted the virus outside of work. In many cases, it simply isn’t possible to say how the virus spread.

Coronavirus is forcing unprecedented legal considerations and every case in this unique situation is different. If your loved one died of coronavirus and you believe that an employer, a nursing home, assisted living or long-term care facility or a specific person is at fault, you should contact an attorney to have your coronavirus lawsuit case evaluated and your questions answered.

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