When we think about personal injury lawsuits, we typically think more about working with a Houston car accident attorney following an injury or a death. Those cases are common, particularly given the high number of serious accidents that happen in the Houston area every year.
Now, however, 2020 is ushering in a new era of potential personal injury litigation and beyond related to COVID-19.
There have already been clashes between labor groups and businesses about COVID-related litigation. Employees are worried about their health as they return to work, but employers are looking for protection from litigation related to the pandemic.
It is rare for an employer to be found liable for an employee’s death related to the workplace because the legal bar is high, but still, it’s understandable that there are concerns on both sides.
Currently, national lawmakers are struggling to come to an agreement on the next round of coronavirus stimulus, and one sticking point is the fact that Republicans are calling for business liability protection.
Nationally, there have already been COVID lawsuits popping up. For example, Walmart is facing lawsuits from employees and families.
Tyson is another large company dealing with litigation. The families of three employees of a pork processing plant in Iowa who died after getting the coronavirus say that the plant didn’t shut the plant down, against recommendations of health officials. The case has moved to federal court.
There have been a number of cases file just in the Houston area recently relating to COVID as well.
Some of these include:
Republicans Ask for Restraining Order Against Houston Mayor
This legal issue was a little different than suing an employer for contracting COVID but made headlines recently in Houston nonetheless.
A Harris County judge denied a request from the Republican Party asking for a temporary restraining order against Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city. The Texas GOP was asking the judge to grant a restraining order that would force the city to let them have the state convention.
The Republican Party said they weren’t surprised to lose their bid, but they were ready to move forward with their appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
The Republican Party sued for a breach of contract, and the idea behind their restraining order was that they would prevent the city from using the virus as a reason to cancel the convention.
Other Lawsuits Against Elected Officials
The lawsuit against the Houston mayor was one of many directed toward elected officials throughout the state.
For example, as soon as Governor Greg Abbott issued his mandatory mask order, Jared Woodfill, an attorney in Houston, was already drafting the documents to sue.
Woodfill told local media outlets that every time Governor Abbott issues what they believe to be unconstitutional orders or mandates, his firm would be challenging them. At the start of July, the claim against the mask mandate marked the seventh such lawsuit his firm had made.
Texas Bar owners filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas governor, saying his shutdown is violating their constitutional rights.
The $10 million federal lawsuit is the second shutdown of bars in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.
The plaintiffs are all members of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance. It was the second lawsuit filed by bar owners in less than a week at the time.
Along with damages, the lawsuit is asking that Abbott be stopped from enforcing his executive order, and it also asks for measures to prevent similar shutdowns in the future. The suit said Governor Abbott should give people more than 24 hours’ notice before closing down their businesses unless there’s a threat of imminent harm.
Houston Rockets Sue Insurer
The NBA team, the Houston Rockets, and team owner Tilman Fertitta are suing their insurer because of a denial by their insurer to pay out for revenue losses from the pandemic. The specific policy the team is suing over is their business interruption insurance policy.
The suit was the first by an NBA team that seeks to recover losses related to the coronavirus.
In court filings, Fertitta said he paid more than 700,000 in premiums for more than $400 million in business interruption insurance. He said the policy should cover the pandemic because it wasn’t specifically excluded.
Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget Casino and the Landry’s restaurant chain.
At the time of this filing, he was one of more than 50 other businesses around the country suing their insurers for denied business interruption claims, and there are certainly more now.
Insurers have maintained that business interruption policies only extend to physical damage, and they aren’t priced to include a global pandemic. Many do have a specific pandemic exclusion.
Lawyers for the NBA team say in their suit that the pandemic has hit them especially hard being in Houston. The city saw a record number of COVID cases in July.
The Toyota Center is also named on the lawsuit, and the arena’s representatives say they’ve had to not only cancel NBA games but also take losses from canceled rodeos, concerts, and other events.
Recently, several Houston medical malpractice lawyers came together and said they wouldn’t accept COVID-19 cases that are seeking to sue health care providers, hospitals, or nursing homes for good-faith efforts to treat patients with the virus.
The lawyers who issued the statement say it’s to support health care heroes in Texas.
Finally, many legal professionals in Houston and throughout Texas have warned small business owners to proceed cautiously right now. Often business owners will think they’re too small to be the target of lawsuits, and that’s a potentially harmful mindset to have.
There may be many legitimate lawsuits that arise from this situation, even though there’s not a lot of precedents because it’s hard to determine where you catch a highly contagious virus from.
Business owners need to be proactive throughout this situation, especially in heavily affected Houston.