COVID -19 is a mark in our history that we won't soon forget. In March 2020, our lives were collectively changed forever as the virus began to spread. The pandemic changed how we live, work, learn, and socialize. While the government and companies scrambled to put policies in place to keep people safe, time would show that in some cases these actions were inadequate or not properly followed.
In 2021 it was reported that COVID had claimed the lives of 1 million Americans. With so many families impacted by the virus, many wonder if negligent or reckless employers can be sued for COVID wrongful death or injury. The answer depends. In this article, we'll explore what Utah law says about COVID liability and potential legal options for those who were injured or lost loved ones during the pandemic.
If you or a loved one was injured due to someone else's negligence, you may be entitled to legal remedy to help you recover. Schedule an initial consultation with our injury lawyer today by calling 801-535-4645 or filling out our online contact form here.
COVID Liability in Utah
In 2020, Utah became one of the first states in the nation to take steps toward protecting people from liability during the pandemic. Utah Code §78B-4-517 went into effect just months after the virus was declared a national emergency. The law outlined that a “person is immune from civil liability for damages or an injury resulting from exposure of an individual to COVID-19 on the premises owned or operated by the person, or during an activity managed by the person.” The statute provides an expansive definition of “person,” including:
- Any individual
- Any type of business entity, including associations, institutions, corporations, companies, trusts, limited liability companies, and partnerships
- Political entities and government office
- Any other organization or entity
Exceptions to the COVID Liability Law in Utah
While the scope of Utah's COVID liability law is fairly expansive, there are some notable exceptions. It details that immunity does not apply to:
- Willful misconduct
- Reckless infliction of harm
- Intentional infliction of harm
The law is also clear that it does not modify protections provided under the Worker's Compensation Act, the Occupational Disease Act, or the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
What This May Mean for Potential COVID Injury/Wrongful Death Plaintiffs?
For those who were injured or lost loved ones due to the actions of an employer or another individual, the exceptions outlined within the law may provide some route for potential legal recourse. The failure of an employer or another entity to comply with federal or state COVID safety mandates or other procedures recommended by health agencies could have risen to the level necessary to meet one of the law's exceptions of willful misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.
Proving these advanced levels of wrongdoing and negligence can present a hefty challenge for victims. Every case is different, and the law is still forming where Covid liability is concerned. As we await court decisions to form the precedent around whether or not an employer or business can be held liable should their employees or visitors contract the deadly virus, it's important to consult with an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Utah.
Proving Recklessness and Willful Misconduct May Be Difficult
The law provides Utah residents with several exceptions when it comes to the liability of employers and businesses for the Coronavirus, but these levels of wrongdoing won't be easy to prove.
Negligence is the typical test for valid personal injury and wrongful death suits. There are four elements that must exist in a negligence case:
- Duty of Care - This refers to a requirement that a defendant had a duty to act in a reasonable manner to avoid injury (or illness) to others.
- Breach of Duty of Care - In the case of establishing that a defendant breached his or her duty of care in a COVID liability case, a plaintiff would need to prove that the defendant purposefully did not follow the basic precautions set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or another health agency. An example may be a failure to comply with stay-at-home orders.
- Causation - In COVID liability cases, proving this element may be difficult (see more on this below). The plaintiff will need to prove that the defendant caused his or her illness and that there is no other way he or she could have contracted the virus.
- Injury/Damages - Injuries (illness) and financial damages (medical bills, lost income, etc) must be suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant's breach of duty.
Even if negligence at its base level could be proven in COVID liability cases, it could be difficult to find a negligent party liable. For example, in a car crash, it's generally simple to identify the negligent party – perhaps a driver ran a red light and caused an accident with multiple severe injuries. In this case, proving the red light runner was negligent (or even reckless) in upholding his duty of care would be fairly straightforward.
However, proving that a victim contracted the coronavirus at a specific location is much more of a challenge, especially considering the still mysterious nature of the condition. Some people have no symptoms, there are varying degrees of severity, multiple strands present vastly different symptoms, etc. All of these factors make it hard to pinpoint exactly where a patient contracted the virus. This adds a level of complexity; Utah Code §78B-4-517 adds another level of complexity.
The Covid liability law takes it a step further based on the exceptions it provides. Instead of proving only basic negligence, it must be established that a defendant's actions met one of the exceptions.
If it can be proven that an employer or business acted intentionally, recklessly, or criminally filing a lawsuit may be a possibility. While the elements may be more difficult to prove in these types of injury, premise liability, or wrongful death cases, it's not impossible. As the law continues to be fleshed out, other legal options may present themselves to potential plaintiffs.
It's important to speak with a wrongful death lawyer in Utah to understand the options you may have based on the specific facts of your case. To schedule a consultation with our injury lawyer, call 801-535-4645 or fill out this convenient and secure online form here.
The content on our website and blog is intended to provide general information to a general audience only. It is not intended to serve as legal advice of any kind. Every case is different, and it's important that you speak with a professional lawyer to understand your legal situation. We recommend that you set up an initial case review by calling Andrus Law Firm at 801-535-4645.