Published On: Fri, Mar 27th, 2020

Jeremy Diamond: Coronavirus Creating Liabilities For Nursing Homes, Cruise Lines, And Other Businesses

As combating the spread of the coronavirus becomes the duty of entire nations, new questions are being raised about legal liabilities for businesses and their responsibilities in preventing the transmission of the virus.

Jeremy Diamond, a personal injury lawyer in Miami, is preparing his office for a new wave of coronavirus related cases.

“Individuals who contracted COVID-19 as the result of visiting a business, taking a cruise, or even from their medical or long-term care facilities may be able to sue the business,” said Mr. Diamond.

“If an individual passes away from complications due to the disease, it may create the potential for a wrongful death lawsuit,” he adds.

Although businesses are always obligated to maintain healthy standards of cleanliness and sanitation, new enhanced measures have been implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Businesses which fail to comply with these new measures and regulations may be exposing themselves to liability if their business or location can be linked to COVID-19 infections.

“What businesses need to think about right now is their responsibility to their community,” said Jeremy Diamond. “That’s not just an ethical responsibility. It’s a legal one too.”

For businesses which serve the most vulnerable members of their communities, complying with these enhanced sanitation practices can be a matter of life and death.

Nursing homes have been struck particularly hard by COVID-19. In Illinois, 46 cases of COVID-19 were found within a single nursing home, while another nursing home in Little Rock, Arkansas, was found to have 13 cases of the virus.

On March 9th, the United States Center for Medicare and Medicaid put nursing homes on notice, requiring them to take additional steps and implement new procedures to fight the spread of the virus.

Not only did this notice inform nursing homes of new procedures, it exposed them to new liabilities. Nursing homes which fail to comply with federal regulations, use outdated or questionable procedures, or fail to notify their staff, patients, and patient’s family members of important details are likely to be the target of lawsuits in the coming days.

These new regulations are important, as COVID-19 has proven particularly deadly for the elderly. In Washington state, 19 coronavirus deaths were traced back to a single nursing home.

Clusters of cases related to a business are grounds for investigations and potentially even wrongful death lawsuits.

Wrongful death claims can be made by surviving family members or spouses. A wrongful death suit can often result in judgements or settlements of a million dollars or more, as they take into account losses to the family which result from the death.

However, this doesn’t mean every business associated with a coronavirus death is likely to be sued for wrongful death.

“The key legal question will be determining if the business behaved negligently in their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Jeremy Diamond.

This may mean failing to remove infected individuals from the property, failing to maintain proper sanitation, failing to comply with new regulations, or continuing any practice likely to contribute to the spread of the virus.

It may also be a question of time. While businesses linked to the spread in the early days of the outbreak might be forgiven to some degree for failing to act, businesses which fail to implement proper procedures late into the outbreak are more likely to be held liable for their negligence.

Cruise ships — another industry hit hard by the coronavirus — open up entirely new legal questions about what obligations a business has when faced with a pandemic.

In February, passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship began to test positive for COVID-19. All passengers were required to remain quarantined onboard the ship. 

By the time the passengers were able to disembark, the ten cases initially reported had grown to over seven hundred. Ten people died as a result of infections they contracted aboard the Diamond Princess.

Similarly, the Grand Princess cruise ship was found to have twenty one cases of coronavirus on board and was forced to dock in Oakland, California for quarantine. 

A couple who were quarantined aboard the Grand Princess have now filed suit against the cruise line

The one million dollar lawsuit alleges that the ship’s parent company, Princess Cruise Lines, exposed the couple to the coronavirus as a result of the company’s inadequate response to the situation onboard the ship.

It’s not just billion dollar businesses watching out for their new legal liabilities, either. 

Small businesses — especially public facing businesses such as restaurants and stores — are also required to comply with all new measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Even individuals can face stiff penalties for their negligence in preventing the spread of the virus or willfully attempting to spread the virus. 

Such actions can result in criminal charges, like they did for a Missouri man who shared a video of himself on social media which depicted him licking deodorant containers stocked on the shelves of his local WalMart.

The man was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat.

“Businesses and individuals alike need to take the potential legal ramifications seriously,” warns Jeremy Diamond.

For business owners, it’s more important than ever to understand what their businesses’ responsibilities are in preventing the spread of transmissible disease. 

For individuals who have contracted the virus or have friends or loved ones who are ill, it’s important to understand your rights. If the infection can be shown to have resulted from negligence or even malicious action on the part of a business or individual, it opens up the potential for legal action.

“It’s important to remember that the immense resources devoted to fighting COVID-19 are not just sanitation and medicine, but also the full weight of the legal system,” Jeremy Diamond reminds us. 

“Going forward, it’s going to be the duty of the courts to help a lot of people rebuild from this tragedy,” he concludes.

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