If a loved one has died because of COVID-19, it is possible that your family has a claim for wrongful death under California law if the negligence of another was a significant factor in causing the death.
Several wrongful death cases have already been filed related to COVID-19. For example, Walmart is facing a wrongful death case filed by the family of a worker who became infected with the coronavirus and died. And the family of a Turlock man working in Safeway’s warehouse in Tracy have filed suit for Safeway’s refusal to follow state and federal guidelines after other employees had symptoms of the virus.
Proving Wrongful Death
Under California law, wrongful death is proven if negligence or wrongful acts causes the loss of a life. The death can be caused by negligence or reckless disregard for safety. In both case it must be proven that the wrongdoer should have anticipated that someone might be injured and had a duty to the deceased to act reasonably and safely. A failure to take precautions is a breach of that duty and renders the wrongdoer responsible to the survivors for the death and all the damage it has caused them, both financially and emotionally.
With COVID-19 fatalities the duties owed are common sense health and safety precautions. For example, in cases like Walmart and Safeway, employers owe a duty to their employees to keep the workplace safe from hazards and unhealthy conditions. In the Safeway fiasco, the company told employees there was no need to wear masks and gloves, while at the same time concealing an outbreak. Mostly, workplace injuries and fatalities are governed by the workers compensation system, so against an employer it is necessary to show callous disregard amounting to willful injury, including any of the following:
- Failure to properly sanitize and disinfect
- Placing at risk patients or employees with others without proper testing
- Not providing protective equipment
- Not mandating use of protective equipment
- Failure to enforce social distancing
- Failure to warn of risks
- Failure to properly train staff on reducing the risks of disease transmission
- Failure to comply with health and safety regulations (such as those issued by the CDC and OSHA)
- Failure to fully disclose the nature and extent of illness in other employees.
Short Deadlines: Families Must Act Quickly
If there has been a COVID-19 death in your family, it is important to act quickly and consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney. In California, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death. However, if there is possible government negligence, such as if a city or county facility is involved, then the statutory deadline is only six months from the date of death. Cal. Gov. Code, sec. 911.2. A statute of limitations means that the lawsuit must be filed by that date or the lawsuit cannot be filed at all. Thus, as noted, act quickly to ensure that your rights to just and full compensation are not lost.
Equally important is that hiring an experienced lawyer will result in a prompt identification of all material witnesses and obtaining full statements before memories fade or witnesses move on to other employment.
Contact an Experienced Bay Area Personal Injury Attorney
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.