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14 Jan 2022

Tom Hals, Reuters

USA: California court allows lawsuit over firm’s role in starting chain of COVID-19 infections beyond its premises to proceed; companies concerned about “never-ending chain of liability”

"U.S. business fears never ending liability from 'take-home' COVID-19 lawsuits", 12 Jan 2022

[A 21 Dec 2021] ruling allowed a wrongful death lawsuit to proceed against See's Candies Inc. [for the death of] Arturo Ek [who contracted COVID-19 from his wife, Matilde Ek]...who said she was infected by the coronavirus while working inches apart from sick coworkers, and then her husband caught it from her at home.

The ruling is the first by an appeals court to allow a novel "take-home" COVID-19 lawsuit, which seek damages from a business over allegations of violating safety protocols and setting off a chain of infections beyond the company's premises.

See's [Candies Inc.] did not respond to a request for comment, [but] could appeal to California's supreme court.

The See's ruling is only binding in California, but it may offer guidance to judges in other states, legal experts said. Business groups warned in court papers filed before the See's decision that such a ruling could prompt lawsuits by an infected employee’s family and friends, and anyone infected by that circle of people. The groups called it a "never-ending chain" of liability.

To counter COVID-19 lawsuits, including take-home cases, business interests have persuaded at least 30 states to adopt laws that make it difficult to bring them, often by requiring plaintiffs to show gross negligence. California wasn't one of those states...

...Hours after the decision, a California construction worker and his wife cited the ruling to a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco. The couple is seeking to revive a similar lawsuit against Victory Woodworks Inc. There have been at least 23 take-home COVID-19 lawsuits across the United States...The lawsuits generally allege negligence toward COVID-19 protocols...They seek damages on behalf of employees' children and spouses who wound up on ventilators or even died of the disease.

...The Ek family must still convince a judge that See's owed a duty to family and acquaintances of employees....