COVID-19 And The Law


The Coronavirus epidemic of 2020 promises to deliver wide-reaching and dramatic changes to how we live – our society, our culture, our economy.  It will touch every aspect of our lives and as such will also affect the legal system.  Here is a brief set of questions and answers that may be relevant for you.Q: What will happen to my personal injury case in process?

COVID-19-related cases are already flooding the courts and the system is still functioning with limited resources and personnel.  Your case may be put on “the back burner” as a backlog of legal proceedings accumulates due to limited resources. You may experience increased pressure to settle, as the courts struggle to handle the case overload. Additionally, the defendant in the case may now be experiencing financial difficulty, affecting their ability to pay you compensation for your personal injury. Finally, since medical facilities and hospitals are putting off non-critical care, you might experience delays in obtaining medical care for injuries caused by the accident, which will delay reaching “maximum medical improvement” that would provide a complete picture of your losses, allowing you to proceed to the next step in legal proceedings.  A good attorney will be able to help you navigate these choppy waters.

Q: I am experiencing financial hardship due to Covid-19.  Should I cancel  my car insurance?

A: The answer is no!  If you must reduce your monthly expenses,  then the best course of action would be to first raise your deductible from $500 to $1000 (or more), which would offer an estimated 9% savings.  And guess what? Insurance companies are experiencing a reduction in claims due to the dramatic decrease in driving.  Give your insurance company a call as many providers are offering temporary discounts. Traffic promises to remain light as New Mexico and other states “open up”. Whatever you do, you do not want to drop Uninsured Motorists coverage, legally required by law in New Mexico. Regardless of the condition and age of your car, you might regret dropping Collision coverage.

Q: I went into a grocery store and their workers were not wearing masks.  Can I sue them if I get Coronavirus?

A: Again, we are in uncharted legal territory and it would be impossible to offer solid proof.  A spate of COVID-19 related court cases will revise the new definition of duty of care for businesses. New standards for businesses to follow include increased level of sanitization and crowd control. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that just a handful of these lawsuits will have merit. Only when there is gross negligence is legal recourse a recommended action.

For example, take the current high-profile legal action against Walmart. The suit alleges that managers n Evergreen Park, near Chicago, failed to alert workers after several employees began showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The lawsuit states that Walmart “had a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping the store in a safe and healthy environment and, in particular, to protect employees, customers and other individuals within the store from contracting COVID-19 when it knew or should have known that individuals at the store were at a very high risk of infection and exposure”.

Q: What happens to me if I do not follow the mandate to wear a mask?

A: Nothing. New Mexico state police are responsible for enforcing the rules. The police will warn you, but essentially Governor Grisham is relying upon positive peer pressure and those icy cold stares in the grocery store directed at the maskless to encourage compliance. Grisham does not want to burden law enforcement by directing police to hand out the $100 fine, six months in jail, or both which legally it has the right to do. The governor and the state are relying upon on voluntary compliance and the goodwill of its residents.

As an interesting aside, the Federal Government has the authority to enforce isolation and quarantine in the case of communicable diseases.  It derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264). The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states.

Q: Can I be personally liable for getting someone sick with Coronavirus?

A: A causal link is required to prove that you are responsible for posing a threat to another person or public. The connection between contact and illness would be nearly impossible to validate. To refer to an analogous situation, it is very difficult to prove STD transmission. Therefore,  it would be even more difficult to prove that you caused the person to contract Coronavirus which is an airborne virus. An exception would be if you were grossly negligent in obvious ways. For example, if you tested Positive for Covid-19 and then knowingly flew to a previously- planned vacation and it was proven that a significant number of plane passengers tested Positive after sharing the same flight. The duty to prevent the transmission of the virus, mandated by respective governments will have been breached.

Q: I run a small store. How will my responsibilities to my customer’s safety be changing due to Covid-19 and where can I find out information about my duty of care?

A: It seems that Covid-19 will be circulating in the population for some time to come.  A higher standard of cleanliness and care will likely apply translating to evolving standards of duty of care.  These higher standards of care are in the process of being defined as we speak. Regularly checking city, state and federal websites should keep you informed regarding your responsibility as a business owner.

PSKB is hard at work during the Covid-19 Pandemic with all the resources needed to move your case forward or begin a new one.  We are here to help especially and even more during these uncertain times.  Please give us a call at 505-982-5380.