Written on Apr 8, 2020 10:00:00 AM
Can I Sue for Wrongful Death if My Loved One Died of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 outbreak has altered life as we know it for hundreds of millions of people.
It’s been nearly four months since the novel COVID-19 virus emerged in a live-animal wet market in Wuhan, China. When the first COVID-19 cases surfaced in the United States, life continued as normal. Now, over a month later, life for Americans has completely changed with nearly 250,000 people infected as of the time of this article and over a million with COVID-19 worldwide.
With the infected cases and death toll numbers continuously rising in the United States, it’s possible that one of your loved ones has suffered, or even died, from COVID-19. If so, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
But what qualifies as wrongful death and who would be held liable?
What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?
The wrongful death of a loved one is never an easy thing to recover from, especially when it could have been so easily prevented. Tragedies like this can stem from medical malpractice, an auto accident, nursing home negligence, or similar circumstances.
It’s key to know that, while negligence does have an effect on wrongful death cases, a wrongful death claim is not technically a negligence lawsuit. In a traditional negligence case, the person directly affected files a claim on their own behalf. In a wrongful death case, the person directly affected has died, so a wrongful death lawsuit involves surviving loved ones bringing about a case about the (deceased) person directly affected to prove negligence.
The details surrounding wrongful death cases vary between states. However, there are three basic criteria that a case must follow in order to be considered eligible for a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The death was caused by an individual’s negligent conduct;
- There are surviving and dependant family members of the victim, such as spouses or children; and
- There have been financial damages and repercussions stemming from the death.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated. They only seek monetary damages and are brought in civil court by the deceased person’s estate, not the government. Damages typically include medical and funeral expenses, lost support and services, and loss of net accumulations from the deceased, for example. Wrongful death claims also are time-sensitive; for instance, in Florida, wrongful death cases must be filed within two years of the date of death according to Florida Statutes section 95.11(4)(d). When considering a wrongful death suit, it’s recommended you speak with a wrongful death attorney who can provide experience and comfort to your case during this difficult time.
Is China Legally Responsible for COVID-19?
A looming question being discussed by much of the infected world lies in the accountability of the virus: Is China legally responsible for this pandemic and will the communist superpower be forced to compensate for the damages?
Opinion is definitely in favor of the idea. There was a class action lawsuit filed in Florida in late March against the People’s Republic of China, and there are some who argue that the U.S. should treat the pandemic as an act of terrorism.
However, holding a country such as China as legally reprehensible for the COVID-19 pandemic is not a simple matter. The government of China is protected from lawsuits by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, despite any of the regime’s misconduct. That’s because, as a sovereign state, China cannot be brought to regular courts or held legally liable for their conduct. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, known as FSIA, is a statute passed in 1976 and protects foreign sovereigns from American court jurisdictions.
Since China is recognized as a foreign sovereign, they would be immune to a case such as a wrongful death lawsuit, even if a loved one was affected by COVID-19.
However, this does not mean China will not face serious consequences. Although China cannot be held legally responsible for COVID-19, it may still face legal repercussions as a result of the regime’s gross mishandling of information.
The cover-up and clam down by the communist government in the initial weeks of the pandemic, including silencing doctors and whistleblowers about the seriousness of the new virus, has been heavily criticized as having stalled early prevention of the virus. According to a timeline put together by Axios, Wuhan health officials were alerted about the novel COVID-19 for the first time on December 27, 2019, but doctors were reprimanded and told not to spread information three days later.
The U.K.’s University of South Hampton released a study that demonstrated that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier to contain the virus than they did, the number of cases would be reduced by 95 percent and the geographic range of the novel virus considerably limited. Additionally, a recent report from U.S. intelligence has found that China has intentionally concealed the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic within its borders, under-reporting both the total number of infections and deaths.
The lack of transparency and mishandling of the virus outbreak could put China up for legal trouble with countries in the coming months. However, China as a sovereign entity is immune from a wrongful death lawsuit in the U.S.
Can I Sue Someone if My Family Member Died of COVID-19?
However, what if your loved one died at a nursing home in the states? If you believe they did not prepare staff and patients properly for COVID-19, then you can sue for wrongful death due to negligence.
The elderly are more susceptible to serious complications of the virus, so nursing homes in particular have been pressured to respond properly and efficiently to prevent infections. For some, either their methods did not work or they did not respond strongly enough. For example, at least 37 residents and people linked to the Life Care Center nursing home near Seattle, Washington, died during a COVID-19 outbreak.
That nursing home now faces fines totaling more than $600,000 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services due to their negligence. According to reports, staff members continued to work with symptoms and didn’t take protective measures such as wearing masks or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. As a result, 57 percent of the residents became infected.
Although it’s not always possible to prevent infection and death in every situation, a nursing home could be held legally responsible for the death of your loved one due to COVID-19 as a result of negligent nursing home care, such as neglect of their staff to observe safe practices by the CDC.
If your loved one has been harmed or has passed away due to COVID-19, we want to express our sympathy. These uncertain times are pressing enough without the loss of a loved one. If you’re considering pursuing a wrongful death case, Lowman Law Firm is here for you. Our passionate, understanding wrongful death attorneys will fight for your claim, and aid you in your case to bring some final closure to the tragedy of losing a loved one.