The pandemic has brought to the surface numerous complicated issues that people do not know how to resolve.
For instance, the issue of whether an employer is responsible for the death of an employee’s family member after contracting COVID-19 remains thorny and controversial, especially in light of a recent negligence lawsuit.
Bringing work – and COVID – home
The case involves a Maryland flight attendant reportedly required by her employer Southwest Airlines to attend a mandatory, in-person safety training in July of 2020.
It was at this training that the flight attendant was allegedly exposed to the coronavirus. She says that her employer failed to take the necessary precautions to keep people safe, even though this was at the height of the pandemic when the dangers of the virus and preventative measures were well known.
She returned home after the training and tested positive for COVID-19. Days later, her husband also tested positive. Less than a month later, her husband died from COVID-19.
The flight attendant brought a wrongful death claim against Southwest Airlines, arguing that they failed in their duty to protect workers from the virus.
“Opening the floodgates”
Unfortunately, a federal judge recently dismissed the case, citing concerns that ruling otherwise would be “opening the floodgates” for similar lawsuits.
The case was not simply a matter of whether the airline had a duty and failed to take reasonable precautions to protect training participants from being exposed to COVID-19. Rather, based on Maryland court precedent, Southwest Airlines did not have duty to the husband of the employee who contracted COVID and ultimately passed away. The judge noted that such liability exposure for spousal relationships would pose a risk of generating an unreasonable amount of claims.
There have been similar cases brought against employers after employees and their loved ones have gotten sick or died as a result of occupational exposure to COVID-19; however, such claims fall under Worker’s Compensation laws, rather than traditional tort law.
Cases involving wrongful death claims, workers’ compensation and negligence are intertwined, and the serious illness and death in the wake of COVID-19 create a complicated landscape for injured individuals and their families. As a result, it is important that should someone believe they were exposed to COVID-19 at work or due to another’s negligence, they should consult an experienced attorney to discuss their rights.