As the “new normal” of living in a global pandemic takes hold, we are seeing a host of legal questions become triggered. One large set of concerns relates to protecting the health of workers, consumers, patients and nursing home residents from the life-threatening coronavirus/COVID-19. Another set of concerns relates to protecting small businesses who are being taken advantage of by large insurance companies who refuse to pay claims under the policy even after proven losses. Let’s take a look at some of the particular scenarios or issues involved in these potential cases:
Business Liability for Exposing Workers to Coronavirus
As of today, there are more than 1 million reported coronavirus cases in the United States, and over 60,000 deaths. Many of those involve people who were exposed to coronavirus in the workplace.
Tort liability remains an incredibly important incentive for employers to make reasonable efforts to protect the safety of their workers.
Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he wants to make businesses immune from liability as it relates to COVID-19 contracted by their employees, even if the employer is clearly negligent or reckless. On the other side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she is not interested in shielding businesses from liability at the expense of the safety of workers.
We have every reason to protect our workers. We would not be inclined to supporting any immunity [for negligent businesses] from liability,” says Speaker Pelosi.
It’s one thing to protect employers from liability when, through no fault of their own, workers contract COVID-19. It’s another thing entirely when corporations place profit over safety and, as a result, workers are seriously injured or killed. In the latter case — even in this uncertain era of coronavirus — corporate liability remains a critically important incentive for businesses to act reasonably and responsibly to protect the health and safety of workers and consumers.
Workers Compensation Liability
What about workers who contract COVID-19 in the course of their employment through no fault of their employer? Such workers still should have a recourse to collect worker’s compensation.
When the coronavirus pandemic first broke, the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule stating if front-line workers — first responders, healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and other “essential employees” — became infected with COVID-19, it would be presumed to be a result of their work duties, and therefore they would be eligible to receive worker’s compensation benefits.
However, recently a Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the emergency rule. Not surprisingly, the lawsuit to block the rule was filed by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and a number of other big-business groups.
Regardless of this court’s ruling, workers who contract COVID-19 in the course of their employment should still be entitled to Worker’s Compensation, and a competent personal injury lawyer should be able to advocate on behalf of the worker to ensure such benefits are paid.
Medical Negligence Liability — Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Healthcare Providers
In response to this pandemic and the need for as many front-line healthcare workers to combat COVID-19, Governor Pritzker issued an executive order granting many healthcare providers immunity from civil liability for care and treatment relating to COVID-19 during the crisis. The order applies to medical facilities, nursing homes, and other facilities — as well as to doctors, nurses, and EMS personnel providing COVID-19 healthcare services, and protects them against medical negligence liability “for any injury or death” alleged to have been caused by such care or treatment.
The precise scope of Gov. Pritzker’s executive order is not clear. The medical insurance lobby has indicated that it interprets the order as granting immunity for all claims of medical negligence during the coronavirus crisis until the governor’s disaster declaration expires. The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and other consumer protection organizations interpret the executive order more narrowly to malpractice immunity for front-line medical professionals relating to COVID-19 care and treatment only.
Regardless of each side’s interpretation, any such immunity for healthcare workers will expire at the end of the governor’s disaster declaration. In the meantime, those seriously injured or families of those lost due to suspected negligence should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to discuss their options.
We Are Here to Help
In these stressful and unprecedented times, we continue to be there for individuals and families who need legal help. Even if you’re not sure whether a particular legal issue is within our area of expertise, we’d be glad to discuss and point you in the right direction if we can’t help. For a Free Consultation, call us at 312-527-4500.